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Tue, 25 Feb 2020
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Strange Skies

Bizarro Earth

The mystery of the highway in the sky: Sunbeams, clouds and strange shadows caused atmospheric phenomenon in China

When a strange 'highway' was spotted in the skies in China, few people knew what had caused the unusual astronomical phenomenon.

After investigating, meteorological experts think the bizarre pathway was created by a combination of sunbeams 'cast from over the horizon,' clouds high in the sky and shadows.

The striking photos of the unusual astronomical phenomena were spotted in the sky above Boao Town of Qionghai City in Hainan Province, South China.
© Caters New Agency
An unusual astronomical phenomena above the sky in Boao Town of Qionghai City, Hainan Province in South China. Few people knew what had caused the unusual astronomical phenomenon.
Mark Selzer, forecaster at the Met Office, told MailOnline: 'It's hard to be completely sure from a picture, but it's likely this [sight] is due to a phenomenon known as crepuscular rays - or sunbeams - being cast from over the horizon.

Comment: Just to clarify, these are atmospheric phenomena, not astronomical.

Cloud Grey

Spectacular 'noctilucent clouds' (comet dust clouds) appear over Northern Europe

Sky watchers across northern Europe are reporting a vivid display of noctilucent clouds on July 31st. Nické Eriksson sends this sunset image from Karlstad, Sweden:
Noctilucent Clouds
© Nické Eriksson
"It reminded me of a magic carpet," says Eriksson.

Normally the coming of August signals a downturn in sightings of noctilucent clouds (NLCs). The northern noctilucent daisy is brightest in June and July. This year, however, might be different. So far, 2013 has been one of the best years ever for these strange clouds at the edge of space. Sightings could continue long after than usual end of NLC season.

Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you've probably spotted a noctilucent cloud.

Bizarro Earth

Noctilucent clouds intensify

The "noctilucent daisy" continues to expand and intensify as summer unfolds. Observers in central-to-northern Europe are reporting vivid, nightly displays of NLCs. Just hours ago, Alan Tough photographed these over Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland:
Noctilucent Clouds
© Alan C Tough
NLC's at Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland.
"This was another spectacular display of noctilucent clouds," says Tough. "I arrived in Lossiemouth in time to see the Moon rising and managed to capture its glitter path on the River Lossie."

2013 is shaping up to be a good year for NLCs. The clouds surprised researchers by appearing early this year, and many bright displays have already been recorded. Once confined to the Arctic, NLCs have been sighted in recent years as far south as Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska. They might spread even farther south in 2013.

Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you've probably spotted a noctilucent cloud.


Early start for noctilucent clouds

Every summer, above the North Pole, ice crystals begin to cling to dust and particles high in the atmosphere, forming electric-blue, rippled clouds - called noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds - that stretch across the sky at sunset. Their season is eagerly anticipated by skywatchers in the high latitudes.

This year, noctilucent clouds got an early start. NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft first saw them on May 13. The season started a week earlier than any other season that AIM has observed, and quite possibly earlier than ever before, said Cora Randall of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.
Noctilucent Clouds
The four images above show Earth's upper atmosphere, centered on the North Pole, as observed by the AIM satellite. The image on the upper right shows noctilucent clouds on May 23, 2013; the upper left image compares the same week from 2012. The two bottom images show the extent of noctilucent clouds in mid-June of each year. The brighter the clouds in each image, the denser the ice particles. Areas with no data appear in black, and coastal outlines are traced in white. You can view a daily composite projection of noctilucent clouds by clicking here during the northern summer months.


Noctilucent clouds are everywhere

Every day, NASA's AIM spacecraft maps the distribution of noctilucent clouds (NLCs) around Earth's north pole. The results are displayed on spaceweather.com in the form of the "daily daisy." On June 20th, pilot Brian Whittaker flew past a vivid display of NLCs over the North Atlantic Ocean and he decided to compare his own view to that of AIM. Here are the results:
"Once again, AIM's daily daisy-wheel allowed me to see where the northern horizon noctilucent clouds truly were!" says Whittaker. "This display reached a maximum height of about 10 degrees as seen from 37,000 feet at 50N latitude. It was my 4th and best sighting of 2013 so far."


Strange, glowing night clouds continue to spread

Noctilucent clouds
© Martin Koitmäe/Wikimedia
Noctilucent clouds over Kuresoo bog, Soomaa National Park, Estonia.
Just after summer sunsets in northern latitudes, shimmering, wispy clouds appear in the twilight sky. This year, these noctilucent clouds have appeared earlier and farther south than ever before.

Noctilucent clouds exist higher in Earth's atmosphere than any other cloud type. First observed in 1885 following the eruption of Krakatoa, they were a sight reserved for Earth's northernmost residents. In recent years, however, their intensity and frequency have increased, often at latitudes previously thought to be too far south for noctilucent clouds to form.

In 2009, scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research pointed to the southern creep of noctilucent clouds as an early warning signal for climate change high in the atmosphere. Now, new data from NASA's cloud-observing AIM satellite supports this possibility.

James Russell, principal investigator for AIM, says increasing methane emissions could be amping up the cloud show. "When methane makes its way into the upper atmosphere, it is oxidized by a complex series of reactions to form water vapor," Russell said. "This extra water vapor is then available to grow ice crystals for [noctilucent clouds]."


Noctilucent clouds defy NASA expectations: Record early start to the season despite solar maximum

Every summer, something strange and wonderful happens high above the north pole. Ice crystals begin to cling to the smoky remains of meteors, forming electric-blue clouds with tendrils that ripple hypnotically against the sunset sky. Noctilucent clouds - a.k.a. "NLCs"--are a delight for high-latitude sky watchers, and around the Arctic Circle their season of visibility is always eagerly anticipated.

News flash: This year, NLCs are getting an early start. NASA's AIM spacecraft, which is orbiting Earth on a mission to study noctilucent clouds, started seeing them on May 13th.

"The 2013 season is remarkable because it started in the northern hemisphere a week earlier than any other season that AIM has observed," reports Cora Randall of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. "This is quite possibly earlier than ever before."

Comment: We very much doubt it.


Mysterious Mt Shasta: High strangeness on California's Lone Mountain

Mt. Shasta
© WhoForted?
When you first catch sight of Mt. Shasta, you feel there is a great medicine centered there, as though God put it in the middle of the dark plains of Northern California just to relieve the sight of deep green forests with a crystal peak of blazing white. It stands alone, rising high above the surrounding hills, collecting clouds out of nowhere which circle around its peak like a lonley tribe dancing around a fire. All the strenuous heights of the surrounding ranges look like little ant mounds from the upper slops of this behemoth. The sight of the full moon dancing with dramatic, phantasmogoric clouds as it casts a great halo over the misty hillsides below, helps you believe that perhaps you really are standing on the axis mundi - the place where heaven and earth meet... Until you get kicked out for drinking wine in a spiritual healing circle. (But I'm Irish! How else do I heal my spirit!)

Half of those who believe the mountain is holy are making a dollar at it, exploiting its global reputation as a spiritual retreat with outrageously priced "vortex tours" and "spiritual attunement workshops." The other half are poor as pigeons, living in the forests in little tents or shrub huts even through the snow-heavy winter and the sun-blasted summer, striving for the upper branches of human consciousness in the place where "earth ends and heaven begins."

Who dwells here but bearded yokels, skinny-dipping hippies, and crystal-gazing con artists?

Legends dwell here. And plenty of them!


Ice Age cometh: Sun halo appears over Cuba

Those having a beer at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana Cuba today, will be hoping they wake up tomorrow remembering their time there.

For above the newly-refurbished and somewhat iconic bar, high in the sky occurred an atmospheric phenomenon known as a 'sun dog'.

The sun was surrounded by a bright ring, caused by a refraction of sunlight by small ice crystal in the atmosphere.

Bright spark: An atmospheric phenomenon known as a 'sun dog' is seen in the sky over Sloppy Joe's Bar, Havana, Cuba

Put down your pint: The rare halo around the sun is caused by the refraction of sunlight by small ice crystals in the atmosphere

Comment: It's actually a sun halo; a sun dog is something like this.

So sun halos around the sun are appearing in Cuba now? Well that rules out the earlier 'explanation' that they were the result of ice crystals forming in cold environments such as the Arctic Circle.

In fact, they have appeared in the UK and Russia recently.

This is more evidence that the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere have rapidly cooled in recent years.


Noctilucent clouds appear out of season and far to the south - cometary dust from the Russian meteor blast?

From 19-21 February 2013, noctilucent clouds were observed in the UK, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Since these clouds are usually only seen in summer, it is suspected that they may be the result of comet dust deposited in the upper atmosphere by the Chelyabinsk/Chebarkul meteor or comet fragment explosion over Southern Russia on 15 February.

The following images were submitted to spaceweather.com
© Terry Parker
Image taken by Terry Parker on Feb. 20, 2013 from above Birmingham, UK. 'I am an airline pilot in the UK and I occasionally see noctilucent clouds. Usually during the summer at about midnight looking North. But yesterday (20 Feb 13) I was very surprised to see them looking south towards France and so close to sunrise.'

© Tom Axelsen
Photo by Tom Axelsen, Copenhagen area, Denmark