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Stunning photos show rare ‘rainbow clouds’ lighting up the sky

Published Feb 8th, 2023 4:40PM EST
NASA image of rainbow clouds in sky
Image: NASA/Lamont Poole

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Photographers have captured breathtaking photos of “rainbow clouds” shining in the clouds. The multi-colored clouds are known as polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) and look similar to auroras blazing in the sky.

However, these rainbow clouds aren’t auroras as you might think. Instead, they are clouds that only form when the lower stratosphere reaches a temperature below minus 114 degrees Fahrenheit ( minus 81 degrees Celcius), according to LiveScience.

By usual standards, no clouds of any kind form without our planet’s stratosphere, as it is too dry in that part of the atmosphere. However, when the stratosphere reaches these lower temperatures, widely spaced water molecules coalesce into tiny ice crystals, forming rainbow clouds.

rainbow clouds over the mountains
PSCs form over some hilly mountains. Image source: Jack Gerhardsen / Adobe

Sunlight then shines through these crystalline clouds, scattering it and creating the colorful effect that can be seen in the featured image above, as well as photographs taken by photographers. Two photographers took these latest images of the rainbow clouds above the arctic.

The photographs were taken on January 25, with the first set coming from amateur photographer Jónína Guðrún Óskarsdóttir. In the photos, you can see how the light scattered through the rainbow clouds, creating the aurora-like effect that has drawn so many eyes to this breathtaking phenomenon.

Additional photos of the rainbow clouds were taken by photographer Fredrik Broms, showcasing a colorful series of lights in the sky near Tromsø in Norway. Both sets of photographs can be viewed on the photographer’s websites in full detail.

We currently know of two types of PSCs. The first type, Type I, is made of a mix of ice crystals and nitric acid, and they produce less colorful clouds. Type II PSCs are more iridescent in the hues they create, showcasing beautiful rainbow clouds more starkly in the sky. They’re often mistaken for auroras.

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.

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