NASA balloon mission may help improve weather forecasting

The images of a thin group of seasonal electric blue clouds on the cusp of our atmosphere captured by a new NASA balloon mission may lead to improved weather forecasting, the US space agency has said. 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, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

NASA’s polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs) Turbo mission launched a giant balloon on July 8 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.

The mission aimed at studying atmospheric motions, such as airflow over mountains or the motions caused by thunderstorms, which can cause disturbances in the atmosphere which are generated through something called gravity waves.

Besides, with this mission, scientists want to understand the processes of matter in near-Earth space, including how matter there interacts with Earth’s atmosphere and weather.

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 color.

These clouds are affected by what is known as atmospheric gravity waves – caused by the convecting and uplifting of air masses, such as when the air is pushed up by mountain ranges.

The waves play major roles in transferring energy from the lower atmosphere to the mesosphere.

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