The first historically black college and university to have complete responsibility of a NASA satellite discussed initial results from the AIM satellite mission at the American Geophysical Union meeting held in San Francisco, Dec. 10-14.
AIM, the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, launched April this year, investigates noctilucent 'night shining' clouds, which are also known as polar mesospheric clouds. The mission is quantifying the life cycle of these clouds that form at high altitudes in Earth's atmosphere, about 50 miles above, where temperatures during local summer average minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dr. James M. Russell, III, principal investigator and co director of the Hampton University Center for Atmospheric Sciences, said "the AIM mission has changed our view of PMCs [polar mesospheric clouds] after only one season of observations."
Russell shared results from satellite observations of the clouds during the 2007 Northern Hemisphere PMC season. The satellite detected the clouds from May 25 through Aug. 25. Russell found that the clouds appeared more frequently, were extremely variable, changed on a daily and hourly basis, and were observed at lower latitudes than previously measured.
"The AIM measurements are providing the most detailed understanding ever of these 'night-shining clouds'," Russell said. "The measurements show the brightest clouds ever observed, with more variability and structure than expected, signifying a greater sensitivity to the environment in which the clouds form. They also show that the clouds exist in a much broader altitude layer than was believed to be the case before AIM was launched," he said.
The AIM mission is now poised to make these measurements in the southern Hemisphere where temperatures are now cold enough for their formation.