Space clouds put on lightshow

Night owls in the UK and Ireland have been dazzled this week by displays of bright space clouds.

The glowing, herringbone bands spread across the northern night sky on Friday morning were the most spectacular seen for years. The BBC radio station Five Live was inundated by callers from across the country reporting the amazing fluorescent clouds.

Alex Lloyd-Ribeiro, of Durham, who took the picture above right, told Spaceweather.com: “I stepped outside at 3am and saw a great display – the best I have ever spotted.” Astronomer Pete Lawrence, of Selsey, West Sussex, said: “I wandered round to the front of my house to see the Moon and was greeted by a brilliant electric blue display, the brightest I’ve seen.”

The spectacle was a display of noctilucent clouds which form more than 50 miles up on the edge of space. They are the highest clouds to form in the atmosphere and are not fully understood. However, many believe they may be caused by rocket and aircraft exhuast and be a sign of the pollution that is causing climate change.

Robin Scagell, of the UK’s Society for Popular Astronomy, said: These amazing clouds are seen far more often now than in the past, and exactly why is still a mystery. They appear only at midsummer in the northern sky, and are hardly ever seen farther south than Britain. They are a special feature of our midsummer skies.”

If you live in northern latitudes, it will be worth keeping an eye on the sky in the coming nights to see if there are more.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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