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Spectacular 'rainbow clouds' light up northern skies in a rare skywatching treat


Strange "rainbow clouds" that look like a colorful portal to another dimension have recently appeared across northern skies. 


These nacreous clouds, also known as polar stratospheric clouds, are one of the highest in Earth's atmosphere. They're sometimes called "mother of pearl" clouds due to their striking pearlescent appearance.


Nacreous clouds form over polar regions in our lower stratosphere between 68,500 and 100,000 feet (13 and 19 miles or 20 and 30 kilometers) according to the UK Met Office. Most "regular" clouds exist below 43,000 feet  (8 miles or 13 km)

Why so colorful? Because of their high latitude and the curvature of Earth's surface, nacreous clouds are illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon and reflect it toward the ground. Ice particles that form nacreous clouds are far smaller than those that form more common clouds. As sunlight passes through these tiny particles it diffracts and the colors are separated into different wavelengths creating the stunning 'rainbow' effect in the sky. 


Nacreous clouds need very low temperatures to form — below -108 degrees Fahrenheit (-78 degrees C) and are therefore only usually visible during the polar winter.


The nacreous clouds lit up the skies above Norway, and Alister Doyle captured them from his home in Oslo. 


"The clouds brighten up the winter, lingering in the sky an hour after the sun set just after 3 p.m. I'm always spellbound — they're an ethereal dose of winter magic, trapping the colors of the rainbow frozen across the sky." Doyle told Space.com


There is, however, a darker side to nacreous clouds. They play a key role in ozone destruction and are occurring more frequently in the Arctic. 


Nacreous clouds contribute to ozone depletion in two ways. Firstly, they provide a surface that transforms harmless forms of chlorine into reactive forms that can destroy ozone. Secondly, they eliminate nitrogen compounds that mitigate the destructive effects of chlorine according to NASA


Follow Pegasus Aerospace System on Twitter @systemaerospace. Follow us on Twitter @systemaerospace or Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram @pegasusaerospace.

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