Articles | Volume 26, issue 5
28 May 2008
 | 28 May 2008

Optical studies of noctilucent clouds in the extreme ultraviolet

J. Hedin, J. Gumbel, M. Khaplanov, G. Witt, and J. Stegman

Abstract. In order to better understand noctilucent clouds (NLC) and their sensitivity to the variable environment of the polar mesosphere, more needs to be learned about the actual cloud particle population. Optical measurements are today the only means of obtaining information about the size of mesospheric ice particles. In order to efficiently access particle sizes, scattering experiments need to be performed in the Mie scattering regime, thus requiring wavelengths of the order of the particle size. Previous studies of NLC have been performed at wavelengths down to 355 nm from the ground and down to about 200 nm from rockets and satellites. However, from these measurements it is not possible to access the smaller particles in the mesospheric ice population. This current lack of knowledge is a major limitation when studying important questions about the nucleation and growth processes governing NLC and related particle phenomena in the mesosphere. We show that NLC measurements in the extreme ultraviolet, in particular using solar Lyman-α radiation at 121.57 nm, are an efficient way to further promote our understanding of NLC particle size distributions. This applies both to global measurements from satellites and to detailed in situ studies from sounding rockets. Here, we present examples from recent rocket-borne studies that demonstrate how ambiguities in the size retrieval at longer wavelengths can be removed by invoking Lyman-α. We discuss basic requirements and instrument concepts for future rocket-borne NLC missions. In order for Lyman-α radiation to reach NLC altitudes, high solar elevation and, hence, daytime conditions are needed. Considering the effects of Lyman-α on NLC in general, we argue that the traditional focus of rocket-borne NLC missions on twilight conditions has limited our ability to study the full complexity of the summer mesopause environment.