Rare ‘rainbow cloud’ spotted over Scotland

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Mother-of-pearl cloud shimmering high in the sky in Angus on Tuesday evening
By Simon King
BBC Weather

Residents in Scotland were amazed by a rare sight in the sky on Tuesday evening.

Looking like a “portal to the next dimension” or possibly a spaceship, the shimmering colours of nacreous cloud were spotted.

One of the highest clouds in our atmosphere, they are often referred to as “mother-of-pearl”, and are rarely spotted in the UK because of the exceptional conditions needed.

Nacreous cloud form in very cold conditions over polar regions and within the stratosphere, around 12-19 miles (19-31km) high, for above our normal clouds.

BBC Weather Watcher SazzyJ “spotted this cloud iridescence from our garden in Edinburgh late afternoon. We’d never seen anything like it before”.

“A portal to the next dimension” said Weather Watcher SkyWatcher.

Another commented “Brief, eerie and bright cloud illumination at sunset this evening. Unsure exactly what. No filter, no spaceship.”

Nacrous cloud spotted by BBC Weather Watcher SazzyJ who said that they’d “never seen anything like it before”

Occasionally cold polar air, locked in place by strong winds high up in the atmosphere – called the polar vortex – weakens and allows this colder air to sink south to our latitude.

Formed in air that is around -80C, tiny ice crystals reflect sunlight, giving the cloud pearly colours – the reason why it is also called mother-of-pearl.

Nacreous clouds are mostly seen a couple of hours either side of sunset or sunrise and, being so high, they are still lit by sunlight which makes them appear even brighter in our evening sky.

Because of the height and temperature needed this cloud is also known as Polar Stratospheric Cloud.

Iridescent colours appear even brighter during sunset, giving them a spaceship-type appearance
Smooth nacreous cloud with an orange glow during sunset above Edinburgh
Nacreous cloud captured in the evening sky in Musselborough, East Lothian

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11 December