A powerful outbreak of Polar stratospheric clouds graced the sky above Abisko National Park during the last week of 2019 – just in time for New Year’s Eve!

Polar stratospheric clouds, which are also referred to as PSCs, nacreous clouds or mother of pearl clouds are a rare phenomenon, but they do occur with relative consistency a few times per year high in the stratosphere above the Arctic Circle. These spectacular glowing cloud formations are comprised of incredibly cold water droplets and nitric acid. Most Polar stratospheric clouds are seen during Polar night in Abisko while the Sun is still well below the horizon. The sight of a Polar stratospheric cloud always creates excitement, but this outbreak was of special interest due to its sheer size and intensity. As a rule, we usually only see a few small clouds in the sky at any given time – but this display was different as nearly the entire southeast portion of the sky above Abisko National Park was filled with brightly glowing PSC’s!

Abisko National Park is perfectly located north of the Arctic Circle which gives the guests who are participating in our northern lights holidays a front row seat for this incredible phenomenon. When we watch the PSC’s above Abisko National Park, we are witnessing the type of clouds that spend their life cycle higher than any other sort of cloud. As a matter of fact, Polar stratospheric clouds are seen at an elevation of 15,000 to 25,000 meters which is approximately 49,000 to 82,000 feet. This incredible altitude, high in the Stratosphere makes the PSC’s even more spectacular!

Our team of professionals has seen lots of Polar stratospheric clouds above Abisko National Park over the years, but the last week has easily produced the finest display any of us have ever seen! Here are a few images, and the thoughts that each photographer had when they captured the photo:

Oliver Wright:
I have seen polar stratospheric clouds on and off for the last 6 years. I don't think I saw any last year, and earlier in December I saw one small one. But on the 30th of December I went to meet my guests in the morning and the storm clouds cleared and a behemoth PSC was visible above Laporten and stretching to above the Southern mountains of Abisko. I was taking two guests out on a landscape photography trip and we went to an area by the lake which allowed me to photograph the amazing clouds reflecting in some standing lake water on the ice.

Chris Hodgson:
I was busily preparing trails for our evening Nightly Aurora Tour when I noticed the beautiful display of PSCs in the southern portion of the sky above the Abisko mountains. I dropped what I was doing, grabbed my camera and quickly went to the closest location with a nice composition of the display. All and all it was a beautiful day and I was realised just how lucky I am to call Abisko National Park my office!

Hendrik Schmitt:
I had never seen a cloud like this before and realized it had to be something special! I grabbed my camera and ran outside to photograph the strange phenomenon - slowly swirling rainbow coloured clouds. It has definitely been a great year for sky observations for me in 2019, after Noctilucent clouds over central Europe in the Summer and northern lights in Sweden now this rare event in Abisko National Park.

While our team of professionals, and all the guests lucky enough to be on one of our northern lights holiday packages were very excited about the outbreak of Polar Stratospheric clouds above Abisko National Park, the excitement didn’t end there! The images and videos that our team created captured the interest of the world’s leading space weather prediction site: www.spaceweather.com. Our images graced the front page of spacweather.com for nearly a week – which shows just how special this outbreak of PSC’s above Abisko National Park really was. We spoke to Tony Phillips, the founder of www.spaceweather.com and he had the following to say about Polar Stratospheric clouds:

“Polar stratospheric clouds are newsworthy because normally the stratosphere has no clouds at all. The stratosphere is arid and almost always transparent. Only when the temperature drops to a staggeringly cold -85C can sparse water molecules assemble themselves into icy stratospheric clouds. PSCs are far rarer than auroras. Basically, it’s tough for water molecules to stick together in the stratosphere. They need the aid of very low temperatures, and that’s what is happening now.”

Last but certainly not least a young lady named Paige Ellis, who is currently working with Lights Over Lapland on an internship from the University of Missouri captured a spectacular cell phone video of the PSCs on the 29th of December. The video quickly went viral on our Facebook page and have been seen by nearly a half a million people in under a week! You can view Paige’s incredible video here:

We hope that our blog about Polar Stratospheric clouds has helped you gain a new appreciation for this incredible phenomenon. Would you like to see something like this in person? Book a place on one of our all-inclusive northern lights holidays today!

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