Ask NASA Climate | July 7, 2010, 17:00 PDT

Pick of the pics

Orbital sunrise

Pick of the pics

This beautiful-yet-bizarro astronaut photograph shows polar mesospheric clouds, a.k.a. “night-shining” clouds, illuminated by the rising sun. It was taken from the International Space Station on June 16, 2010. Usually night-shining clouds are seen at twilight, and are lit up by the setting sun when the sun sets below the horizon and the Earth’s surface gets dark. Occasionally, however, the space station’s high-altitude orbital track becomes nearly parallel to the Earth’s day/night terminator or “twilight zone” (the line that separates day and night). When this happens, night-shining clouds can become visible to the crew at times other than the usual twilight. This picture is the result.

See here to learn more about night-shining clouds.

Image taken and caption adapted from NASA’s Earth Observatory.