A burst of mesospheric cloud activity over Antarctica in January 2003 was caused by the exhaust plume of the space shuttle Columbia during its final flight, reports a team of scientists who studied satellite and ground-based data from three different experiments. The data also call into question the role these clouds may play in monitoring global climate change.
"Our analysis shows that the Columbias exhaust plume approached the South Pole three days after launch," said Michael H. Stevens, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory and lead author of a paper scheduled to be published in the July issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The lower temperatures and high concentrations of water vapor over Antarctica caused a significant increase in polar mesospheric cloud activity."
Polar mesospheric clouds are the highest on Earth, forming at an altitude of about 52 miles. They normally form when temperatures fall below minus 125 degrees Celsius.
James E. Kloeppel | EurekAlert!
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