POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: This week, sky watchers are reporting an outbreak of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) around the Arctic Circle. Unlike normal grey-white clouds, which hug Earth’s surface at altitudes of only 5 to 10 km, PSCs float through the stratosphere (25 km) and they are fantastically colorful. Truls Tiller photographed these over Tromsø, Norway, on Dec. 16th:
“Here the sun is gone for now,” says Tiller, “but this beautiful view makes the winter darkness nice to be in as well. The picture was taken at 10.30 am, in the middle of the ‘day.'”
Also known as “nacreous” or “mother of pearl” clouds, the icy structures form in the lower stratosphere when temperatures drop to around minus 85ºC. High-altitude sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors by diffraction and interference. Once thought to be mere curiosities, some PSCs are now known to be associated with the destruction of ozone.
“Nacreous clouds far outshine and have much more vivid colours than ordinary iridescent clouds, which are very much poor relations and seen frequently all over the world,” writes atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. “Once seen they are never forgotten.”