Noctilucent Clouds

July 3, 2011 at 18:31 | Posted in Barrow, Walney | 5 Comments


It was a long walk home last night (but what a walk!) from the Queens Arms Music Festival at Biggar. I took this picture from the Walney Bridge at a few minutes past 1 am, with a near spring tide an hour from the full and a panorama of Lakeland fells from Scafell on the left to Wetherlam on the right silhouetted against the sky above the streetlights that run from centre to right. I wanted to show how, in Barrow at this time of year, it never gets completely dark.

But apparently those shiny clouds that seem to form a halo round Scafell are noctilucent clouds, a phenomenon that people go out to look for because they are quite rare. They are the reflections of a sun just below the northern horizon from ice crystals high in the atmosphere; in fact they are the highest clouds observable in the earth’s atmosphere.

I guess I just got lucky.


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  1. How unusual is that?? I’ve never seen such a thing… you were in the right place at the right time!

    • From the Wikipedia article I linked to, it seems that the clouds can only appear at certain northerly (or southerly) latitudes where the sun never really gets very far below the horizon in high summer but no so far north that the sun never gets below the horizon at all, so a narrow-ish belt south of the Arctic Circle. Seattle at 47.6°N would be too far south – Barrow at 54.1° would seem to be just right for quite a few weeks in summer. But the conditions have to be just right, too, with a bit of normal cloud in the north to be in deep shadow but clear enough just above the northern horizon for the sun to light the high ice-crystals from below and for the reflection to have a clear path to the viewer. I think the combination of all the right circumstances makes it pretty unusual.

      I hope that makes sense. One thing Barrow and Seattle do have in common is lots of rain, I believe!

      I see Anchorage is at 61.1°N, which is too far north. Maybe Canada has secured the North American monopoly on noctilucent clouds!

  2. That is one cracking photo

  3. Rosalind
    I like your shots of Noctilucent clouds , I haven’t seen these for 2 years.

    If you are an author, who is the name of your publisher?


  4. Never seen those before here in New York.

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