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Mysterious glowing clouds targeted by NASA

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Mysterious glowing clouds targeted by NASA

Maggie McKee ~ NewScientist.com news service

Glowing, silvery blue clouds that have been spreading around the world and brightening mysteriously in recent years will soon be studied in unprecedented detail by a NASA spacecraft.

The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission will be the first satellite dedicated to studying this enigmatic phenomenon. Due to launch in late 2006, it should reveal whether the clouds are caused by global warming, as many scientists believe.

"Noctilucent" clouds, which glow at night, form in the upper atmosphere, at an altitude of about 80 kilometres, and their glow can be seen just after sunset or just before sunrise.

"Even though the Sun's gone down and you're in darkness, the clouds are so high up, the Sun is still illuminating them," explains AIM principal investigator James Russell at Hampton University in Virginia, US.

The clouds were first observed above polar regions in 1885

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