The day rumbled by in a torrent of rain, thunder and lightning yesterday. It finally broke with a glorious yellow sunset and rainbow. I put my digi-cam on charge to see if I could be fast enough to get it. Sadly not, though my film camera was a little more accommodating.
Later on, deciding that a rainy day was not the best sign of a nice clear night, I decided on an early night, but due to an unexpected Citizen sky survey, which appeared rather in depth, I stayed up a little later than expected. I never saw any of the meteor showers the BBC reported, but when the clouds did clear, I saw quite a different thing. A glow to the north.
It was immediately apparent that these weren’t auroral signals (though one or two did seem to follow the course of an auroral arc) and they didn’t quite seem like clouds lit up by the waning crescent Moon. I took a quick snap to see what the camera saw, then headed out to look a bit closer and to get a more northward view. The time was just before 3am, a good long while before sunrise.
Looking to the north, it was plain that the clouds were in the right position, glowing correctly and looking just like classic NLCs (a report from further south confirmed later that there was a noctilucent cloud show). Noctilucent clouds mean Night Shining clouds, they are the highest clouds around and are lit first by the unrisen Sun. When the Sun starts rising, the NLCs will have already vanished as they are no longer within the Sun’s grasp. They are also known as Polar Mesospheric clouds, which relates to where they are found – normally surrounding the polar region, normally at the height of the mesosphere.
NLCs weren’t the only things on show that morning as the skies had cleared. As well as the Moon mentioned earlier, Jupiter was shining brightly to its south. Neptune was next to it (as I had seen through the Celestron a few nights earlier, getting it, Neptune and a field star in one view in the 25mm eyepiece. Jupiter was bright enough to almost blot out the tiny blue dot of Neptune and even its Moons outshone the other planet and star), but as always invisible to the naked eye. Similarly, Uranus was underneath the Moon, but the brightness of that and the twilight did make the seventh planet even more difficult to see. By the end of the photoshoot, Venus had risen in the East and a glow permeated the horizon, captured in several of the shots. The NLCs were fading by 3:30am when I finished and were gone before sunrise. All photos in the set are available here.