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September 6, 2011
S117-E-06998 (10 June 2007) --- Polar Mesospheric Clouds are featured in this image photographed by a STS-117 crewmember onboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. Sometimes in the summertime in the far northern (or southern) latitudes, high in the Earth's atmosphere at the edge of space, thin silvery clouds form and are observed just after sunset. These high clouds, occurring at altitudes of about 80 kilometers (50 miles), are called Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMC) or noctilucent clouds, and are the subject of new studies to determine whether their occurrence is related to global climate change. Observations over the past few years suggest that PMC are now observed more frequently and at lower latitudes than historical observations. Several studies related to the International Polar Year (IPY), and the AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) spacecraft are underway to collect relevant data on the chemistry and physics of the mesosphere that might explain the occurrence of PMC. Astronauts in orbiting spacecraft frequently observe PMC over Canada, northern Europe and Asia during June, July and August. While PMC also occur over the high latitudes in the southern hemisphere in December, January and February, astronaut observations of southern PMC are less frequent. Earlier in June 2007, the shuttle crew visiting the International Space Station observed spectacular PMC over north-central Asia. This image was taken looking north while the shuttle and station were docking and flying over the border between western China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The red-to-dark region at the bottom of the image is the dense part of the Earth's atmosphere. Because this image was taken with a long lens (180mm), the entire profile of the Earth's limb is not captured. To support IPY research over the next 2 years, station crewmembers will be looking for and documenting PMC in both hemispheres.

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