Strange clouds that glow in the night sky are getting easier to see — and it could be because of all the methane we’re pumping into the atmosphere, a new study says.
The bad news is that methane is a greenhouse gas that’s contributing to global warming. But the good news is that more methane means that more of us might get a chance to see these stunning, night-shining — or noctilucent — clouds, according to the study, which was published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Noctilucent clouds form around the poles in the summer months, when ice crystallizes around shards of disintegrating meteoroids, volcanic dust, and even rocket plumes 50 miles above the surface, according to NASA. Here on the ground, we can see these clouds when the sun dips below the horizon and illuminates them. The first time people reported noticing noctilucent clouds was in 1880s after the massive eruption of Krakatau, a volcano in Indonesia. Back then, noctilucent clouds were spotted maybe a handful of times a century; now, it’s possible to see one or more noctilucent clouds every season, the study says.
That’s likely because they’re getting brighter. And new computer simulations suggest that’s because of rising levels of the greenhouse gas methane. Over time, methane in the atmosphere breaks down into carbon dioxide and water. That water vapor is responsible for the brightening noctilucent clouds, the new study says. More water vapor fuels more ice crystal growth, which means shinier clouds.
As far as consolation prizes go for the snowballing nightmare of climate change, these clouds…