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The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
(NASA Crew Earth Observations)
Astronaut Photography of Earth - Display Record
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IdentificationMission: ISS031 Roll: E Frame: 116058 Mission ID on the Film or image: ISS031
Country or Geographic Name: CHINA
Features: POLAR MESOSPHERIC CLOUDS, ATMOSPHERIC LAYERS
Center Point Latitude: Center Point Longitude: (Negative numbers indicate south for latitude and west for longitude)
Stereo: (Yes indicates there is an adjacent picture of the same area)
ONC Map ID: JNC Map ID:
CameraCamera Tilt: High Oblique
Camera Focal Length: 180mm
Camera: N2: Nikon D2Xs
Film: 4288E : 4288 x 2848 pixel CMOS sensor, RGBG imager color filter.
Percentage of Cloud Cover: 10 (0-10)
NadirGMT Date: 20120613 (YYYYMMDD) GMT Time: 192657 (HHMMSS)
Nadir Point Latitude: 36.2, Longitude: 89.9 (Negative numbers indicate south for latitude and west for longitude)
Nadir to Photo Center Direction:
Sun Azimuth: 22 (Clockwise angle in degrees from north to the sun measured at the nadir point)
Spacecraft Altitude: 211 nautical miles (391 km)
Sun Elevation Angle: -27 (Angle in degrees between the horizon and the sun, measured at the nadir point)
CaptionsPolar Mesospheric Clouds, Northern Hemisphere
In both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, during their respective late spring and early summer seasons, polar mesospheric clouds are at the peak of their visibility. Visible from the ground during twilight, aircraft in flight, and the International Space Station (ISS), they typically appear as delicate shining threads against the darkness of space—hence their other name of noctilucent or “night-shining” clouds. On the same day this image was taken from the ISS while it was passing over the night-darkened Tibetan Plateau, polar mesospheric clouds were also visible to aircraft flying above Canada. In addition to this still image, the ISS crew took a time-lapse image sequence of polar mesospheric clouds several days earlier (June 5, 2012) while passing over western Asia - the first such sequence of images of the phenomena taken from orbit.
Polar mesospheric clouds form between 76-85 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, when there is sufficient water vapor at these high altitudes to freeze into ice crystals. The clouds are illuminated by the setting Sun while the ground surface below is in darkness, lending them their night-shining properties. In addition to the illuminated tracery of polar mesospheric clouds trending across the center of the image, lower layers of the atmosphere are also illuminated; the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the stratosphere, is indicated by dim orange and red tones.
While the exact cause of formation of polar mesospheric clouds is still debated—dust from meteors, global warming, and rocket exhaust have all been suggested as contributing factors—recent research suggests that changes in atmospheric gas composition or temperature has caused the clouds to become brighter over time.
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Recommended Citation: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA-Johnson Space Center. "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth." .