And so the Noctilucent Cloud Season of 2012 begins…

What are these noctilucent clouds? Well, I’m sure you can easily deduce it. That’s right they are ‘night-shining clouds’. And now is the start of the season for them (they only occur in the northern hemisphere between June and August). These simply aren’t your normal clouds though, these are something special.

Noctilucent Clouds

First of all they are the highest clouds in the atmosphere. They occur in an area called the mesosphere (they’re also called polar mesospheric clouds for this reason). The mesosphere sits atop the stratosphere which itself sits atop the troposphere (which is where all other clouds and weather form). So these things are pretty high up, 75 – 85km up in fact.

So why do these things ‘night-shine’? It’s pretty simple really, they occur so high up that if you were where they were you’d be able to see the Sun. So they simply reflect the sunlight they’re seeing down to us.

The problem is is that not a lot is known or understood about these clouds, how they form and so on. The best thing though is that you can help. There’s a lovely little Facebook community who go out and report and photograph sightings. There’s also a very useful forum if you wish to know more.

So become a citizen scientist for the summer and help us learn more about these peculiar clouds!

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It’s Raining CH4

The sky is overcast, hazy and orange, there’s a light wind. It’s a tad chilly too, -170°C. Water’s frozen as hard as steel. And yet it appears to be raining. Large globules of liquid slowly float like snowflakes to the surface.

We are ofcourse not in some bizarre and crazy sci-fi TV series, but on the surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan.

Saturn's Rings, the small moon Epimetheus and Titan

Titan’s a pretty exciting place. It’s the only moon in the entire Solar System with an appreciable atmosphere (it’s thicker than the Earth’s!) and it’s bigger than the planet Mercury! Continue reading

Airborne Atmospheric Research

My boss came up into the control tower the other day and said to me ‘The METMAN is coming in for a month at the end of February, we should be able to get fam flights’.

This got me extremely excited, in fact I am yet to calm down! First though, let me explain to you what ‘The METMAN’ is. The METMAN is an airplane. It’s a BAe 146 that is owned by BAe Systems and operated by Directflight. It is a result of a collaboration between the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council and it is established as part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences.

What does this mean? Basically it’s an atmospheric research aircraft. It has lots of scientific equipment stuck to different parts of it, it goes flying, takes lots of measurements, and then scientists have loads of fun trying to make sense of it all.

The METMAN

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Megacryometeors!

I’m an aviation met observer and have been fascinated with the weather for a while. Our atmosphere, our thin blue line, is truly amazing.

I can’t quite remember when I first came across these megacryometeors but the name instantly caught me, just for its sheer cool soundingness. I set out to find what they were. As it turns out, no one really knows. We know what they are. As the name suggests, they are giant ice balls that fall from the skies, but we don’t know anything about how they form and why they exist.

Suspected megacryometeor

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