NASA’S PMC TURBO BALLOON MISSION:
NASA’s PMC Turbo mission launched a giant balloon on 8 July to study PMCs at a height of 50 miles above the surface.
For five days, the balloon floated through the stratosphere from its launch at Esrange, Sweden, across the Arctic to Western Nunavut, Canada.
During its flight, cameras on board the balloon captured six million high-resolution images filling up 120 terabytes of data storage – most of which included a variety of PMC displays, revealing the processes leading to turbulence, NASA said.
NASA balloon has captured rare images from right at the very edge of Earth’s atmosphere, where it has been examining a thin group of electric blue clouds with high-powered cameras.
Polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs) form 50 miles above the poles during summer. They’re mostly made up of ice crystals and appear like faint lines in the sky.
The clouds are only visible during twilight, when the angle of the sun reflects off them and causes them to shine a bright electric blue or white colour.
Over the course of a five-day mission, a NASA research balloon captured pictures of these clouds in the mesosphere – near to the very edge of space.
Data from these clouds, known as noctilucent clouds or polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs), may help scientists better understand turbulence in the atmosphere, as well as in oceans, lakes and other planetary atmospheres.
Scientists have just begun to analyse the photos captured by the mission, the statement added.
“From what we’ve seen so far, we expect to have a really spectacular dataset from this mission,” said Dave Fritts, principal investigator of the PMC Turbo mission at Global Atmospheric Technologies and Sciences in Boulder, Colorado.
“Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events that we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics,” Fritts added.
These clouds are affected by what is known as atmospheric gravity waves – caused by the convecting and uplifting of air masses, such as when air is pushed up by mountain ranges.
The waves play major roles in transferring energy from the lower atmosphere to the mesosphere.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to visualise the flow of energy from larger gravity waves to smaller flow instabilities and turbulence in the upper atmosphere,” Fritts said.
“At these altitudes you can literally see the gravity waves breaking – like ocean waves on the beach – and cascading to turbulence,” Fritts added.