NASA’s balloon mission may lead to improved weather forecasting. Images of the noctilucent clouds can help scientists better understand turbulence in the atmosphere. They can also help in better understanding of turbulence in oceans, lakes and other planetary atmospheres, said NASA in a statement.
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On 8 July 2018, a giant balloon was launched in Estrange, Sweden to study these fantastic clouds. For five days, the balloon floated over 50 miles (80 kilometres) above the Earth across the arctic to Western Nunavut, Canada.
The mission, called the PMC Turbo mission, had seven imaging systems on board, as well as a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) tool. It captured a staggering 6 million images - filling up 120 terabytes of storage.
“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.
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Noctilucent clouds coalesce as ice crystals on tiny meteor remnants in the upper atmosphere. These clouds are affected by what is known as atmospheric gravity waves — caused by the 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 have 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.