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No. 35: Sep-Oct 1984

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Infrared Atmospheric Waves

When the night sky is photographed in the infrared portion of the spectrum, luminous wave-like structures appear in the upper atmosphere. The wave crests are about 50 kilometers apart; lengthwise, they stretch up to 1.000 kilometers; altitude, about 85 kilometers. As many as ten waves may be seen at the same time. Morphologically, these waves resemble noctilucent clouds, which are sun-illumined, high-altitude clouds. The infrared waves, however, appear when the sun is well below the horizon. Since these waves are seen only at low angles over the horizon, some geophysicists propose they are the result of a geometric effect produced by viewing a rippled layer of weakly emitting gases in the upper atmosphere.

When one looks at this rippled layer just above the horizon, one sees alternating thick and thin sections due to the perspective. The thick portions will appear brighter than the thin sections. As for the origin of this postulated rippled layer; no one is sure. Gravity waves may be involved.

(Herse, M.; "Waves in the OH Emissive Layer," Science, 225:172, 1984.)

Comment. As described in our Catalog Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights. luminous atmospheric waves are, on rare occasions, visible to the naked eye. It is possible that the bandedsky phenomenon is related to the infrared waves. For more information on the book just mentioned, visit: here.

Rippled emissive layer around the earth. Rippled emissive layer around the earth. The variable optical path near the horizon could create luminous ripples to a ground observer.

From Science Frontiers #35, SEP-OCT 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987