Feeds

NASA plans mission to sweep away cloud mysteries

Climate change indicators?

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

NASA is planning a new mission to probe mysterious ice clouds that hover around our atmosphere at the edge of space. The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft aims to help researchers understand how the clouds form and explain recent changes in their formation patterns.

The craft, slated to launch on 25 April, will carry three instruments for three experiments: the Solar Occultation for Ice Experiment; the Cloud Imaging and Particle Size Experiment; and the Cosmic Dust Experiment. The instruments will collect data on air pressure and temperature, moisture content, and cloud dimensions.

Polar mesospheric clouds are so-called because they form over the poles at an altitude of around 50km in the "mesosphere", the region just above the stratosphere. They can only be seen from the ground at night, a phenomenon known as noctilucence. This is because the need to be illuminated by sunlight that isn't also striking the surface of the earth.

The clouds seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon, with the first recorded report of them dating to the late 19th century, shortly after the volcanic eruption on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa.

In recent years they have been forming at lower altitude, and appear brighter. They are also more prevalent than they used to be, and some researchers suggest this might be the result of climate change, since an increase in atmospheric CO2 actually causes a cooling in the mesosphere.

"These clouds are indicators of conditions in the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere and are an important link in the chain of processes that result in the deposition of solar energy into Earth's atmosphere," said Mary Mellott, AIM program scientist for NASA.

"The occurrence of these clouds at the edge of space and what causes them to vary is not understood," AIM principal investigator James Russell III, from Hampton University, said.

"One theory is that the cloud particles grow on 'seeds' of meteoric dust or dust lofted up from below. AIM will provide the comprehensive data needed to test current theories for cloud formation or develop new ones, and allow researchers to build tools to predict how they will change in the future."

What is known is that the brightest of the clouds are formed primarily of water ice. Scientists also know that the clouds vary seasonally, controlled by the interactions of temperature, water vapour, solar activity, atmospheric chemistry, and the small "seed particles" on which the cloud crystals form.

The clouds form during polar summers, so between May and August in the north and November and March in the south. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.