The solar cycle, NASA’s AIM spacecraft, and the mysterious silvery clouds (NLC) have all become major characters in 2023. But what is going on with these unusual clouds and why have they become less bright and rare? Let’s get to the bottom of this mystery.
NLCs, or silvery clouds, are a unique phenomenon in the night sky. They form every summer when water rises to the edge of space and crystallizes around decayed meteoroids, creating electric blue structures. These clouds can be observed at altitudes of more than 80 km and have become an object of interest to many photographers and scientists.
In 2023, however, something went wrong. NASA’s iconic AIM spacecraft, which used to provide us with stunning images of the silvery clouds, broke down. The ship’s main battery failed, depriving it of power and the ability to observe these beautiful phenomena from space. Thus, we were left without our main source of information about the NLC.
But that’s not all. The clouds themselves also failed. Ruslan Merzlyakov, a photographer from Denmark, shared his experience of photographing NLC and noted that the season for him had not started even after the summer solstice. He noted that this year the clouds were duller and less widespread than before. What could have caused this change?
One possible factor that could influence the brightness and frequency of NLCs is the activity of the Sun. In 2023, the Sun was particularly active and emitted strong ultraviolet radiation, which reached the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. These high-energy photons can make it difficult for ice crystals to form in the mesosphere, which in turn suppresses the formation of NLCs.
The solar cycle is a periodic change in the Sun’s activity that lasts about 11 years. During this period, the Sun goes through periods of increased and decreased activity. In 2023, we are at the peak of the solar cycle activity, which may explain the increased ultraviolet radiation and its negative effect on the NLC.
However, despite these assumptions, scientists are still investigating this topic and trying to find more precise answers to questions about the reasons for the changes in the brightness and prevalence of NLC in 2023.