International Space Station photo

Here’s what the land of the midnight sun actually looked like at 12:15 am local time, August 4. Astronauts in the International Space Station snapped this photo as they crossed over the Aleutian Islands. If the foreground of the photo weren’t dark, you would see western Alaska in it.

Here, the sun is just about to rise over the Aleutians. Above the sun are noctilucent clouds, also known as polar mesospheric clouds. Noctilucent clouds appear 47 to 56 miles (75 to 90 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth, which is five to six times higher than the altitudes at which rainclouds form. See the orange line at the horizon on the left part of the photo? That’s the layer in the atmosphere where rainclouds form, whereas the wispy blue stuff above the sun are noctilucent clouds.

Some data suggest noctilucent clouds now appear brighter and at lower latitudes than in the past, perhaps due to global warming, NASA reports.

Earthbound folks can get a look at noctilucent clouds by visiting polar regions during the summer. One man recently recorded a gorgeous time-lapse video of noctilucent clouds, plus the aurora, in northern Scotland:

International Space Station photo

The spot of red at the bottom of the photo is a reflection, possibly from the camera lens, the window frame or an object inside the space station, NASA reports.

NASA Earth Observatory