Mystery space clouds dazzle Europe

Noctilucent cloud display pictured by Jamie Cooper from Northanpton, UK


Rare electric-blue clouds on the edge of space have been putting on a spectacular light-show this week. The mysterious sky glows, which have nothing to do with normal clouds, could be seen glowing brilliantly late at night.

Amateur astronomers across Europe have been taking snapshots of the luminous, wispy patterns painted by the clouds across the northern sky. Jamie Cooper, of Northampton, is one who has taken stunning images of them, including the one above on the evening of 16 June.

They are called noctilucent – or night-shining – clouds. Experts believe they occur in summer and when solar activity is low – unlike the aurora, or northern lights, which are seen more when the sun’s behaviour is particularly violent.

Although they are beautiful, some scientists believe these space clouds, up to 60 miles high near the top of the atmosphere, are an indicator of global warming or pollution.

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Amateur astronomers say the displays of noctilucent clouds this week have been some of the best for years. They can be seen to the north, glowing against a dark sky from around an hour after sunset until midnight.

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said today: “Noctilucent clouds are rare but they’ve been a stunning sight this week. You can’t mistake them for normal clouds because they shimmer in a spectacular way, long after the sun has set.”

More photos of noctilucent clouds can be found at SpaceWeather.com.

Picture: Noctilucent cloud display pictured by Jamie Cooper from Northampton, UK, on 16 June.

• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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