Noctilucent Clouds Perform Delicate Dance for NASA’s Balloon-Cam

Noctilucent clouds, or PMC's, form high in the atmosphere above the poles. NASA launched a five-day balloon mission to observe and photograph them. Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng

Noctilucent clouds are one of the atmosphere’s most ethereal natural wonders. They form high in the mesosphere, about 80 km (50 mi) above the Earth’s surface, and are rarely seen. In July, 2018, NASA launched a five-day balloon mission, called PMC (Polar Mesospheric Clouds) Turbo, to observe them and photograph them.

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Sunrise Photos from the Edge of Space shot by College Team

A sunrise from the edge of space. Credit: Project Soar


A college-age team of space and photography enthusiasts have created a fully reusable capsule that can travel autonomously to the edge of space using high altitude balloons. To date, their capsule, named PURSUIT has had four flights, reaching altitudes ranging from 24,000 to 36,500 meters (80,000 to 120,000 feet.) “We wanted to fly capsules to the edge of space and capture the most difficult imagery that other teams didn’t even bother trying,” said Project Soar team leader David Gonzales II. “Our capsules shoot high resolution stills and shoot HD video of their incredible journeys.”

Last fall, the team captured the stunning image above of a sunrise from space from about 25,000 meters above the Earth. “To our knowledge, Sunrise Soar II captured the highest resolution images of sunrise ever taken from the edge of space by a high altitude balloon flight,” Gonzales told Universe Today.

A sunrise above most of Earth's atmosphere. Credit: Project Soar

In images taken from over 36,000 meters, absent are the reddish sunrise colors that we see on Earth because of the atmosphere.

Their PURSUIT capsule cost about $500 to put together initially, but their total cost per flight is only $40.

The crew consists of twelve different students and recent graduates from various colleges. Gonzales said he formed Project Soar and put together the team as a hobby. The team hopes to do several more flights soon.

The Sunrise Soar team filling the balloon. Credit: Proejct Soar

See more images and videos, and read detailed reports about the team’s adventures at their Project Soar website.

Success! The Sunrise Soar retrieves their capsule. Credit: Project Soar