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Rare rainbow clouds lit up the Arctic sky for 3 days – see the stunning photos

Published Jan 6th, 2024 9:01AM EST
rare rainbow clouds, nacreous clouds
Image: Brian L Stetson / Adobe

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Sky watchers in the Arctic were treated to quite the spectacle in mid-December. Following the sweeping path of a cold wave through the Arctic, the skies were alight with rare polar stratospheric clouds, which presented a rainbow-like show throughout the sky. Images of the rare rainbow clouds made their way across Facebook and other social media, highlighting the event.

The cold wave that brought these beautiful but rare clouds streaking across the sky gave skywatchers almost three days to enjoy the sights, reports. And while the clouds were visible in the sky all day, one photographer in the area says that the bright colors “really exploded just before sunset”. We saw similar photos of rainbow-like clouds in early 2023, too.

These rare rainbow clouds, more scientifically known as nacreous clouds, only appear in extremely cold weather conditions. The streaks of light are created by tiny crystals of ice within the clouds, which cause the rays of sunlight to scatter when they hit them, creating what looks like streaking rainbows across the sky.

To see images of the latest set, you’ll need to head over to Facebook, where one of the photographers shared their photos.

It’s a beautiful sight and one that aurora tour services in the Arctic areas take advantage of whenever they can, as they provide quite a spectacle for traveling photographers and tourists. The crystals responsible for the rainbow-like effect typically form at an extremely high altitude, between 9.3 and 15.5 miles above the surface.

Live Science says this is higher than clouds typically form, but the extreme cold temperatures brought by the needed weather conditions cause the water vapor to crystallize, creating this unique spectacle. These rare rainbow clouds are usually only spotted a handful of times. Most of the time, sightings come in January.

Seeing them in December, as an extremely cold wave passes through the area, and the fact that they lasted for several days, was quite a treat for skywatchers to end out 2023 with a bang.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.