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Storms bring spectacular and 'once in a lifetime' sight across our skies

By Linda Stewart

Published 03/02/2016

A dog walker near Whitley Bay, Northumberland
A dog walker near Whitley Bay, Northumberland
Spectacular Nacreous clouds over Castledawson were captured by photographer Martin McKenna yesterday

The weather may be frightful, but there has been one consolation - the spectacular rainbow clouds that have been glimpsed across Northern Ireland at dawn and dusk.

These rare nacreous clouds - also known as polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) - are formed from ice crystals in the winter polar stratosphere and are best observed when the sun is between one and six degrees below the horizon.

It's thought the storms could have heightened the chances of seeing the iridescent clouds, which have been photographed in the skies over Belfast, Bangor, Cookstown and Dublin.

Storm chaser Martin McKenna said anyone who spots the nacreous clouds can count themselves as very lucky indeed.

"They are rarely seen from the UK and Ireland, with earlier sightings going back to 1995 or so but nothing since," he said.  "However, in late January and early February they have been sighted across the country, making for a unique and special show. Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSCs) require temps of minus 85 degrees C or colder and require ice crystals of a specific size and orientation to refract sunlight and hence produce their vibrant iridescent colours.

"These really are a once in a life time sight for observers in Northern Ireland however sightings may still be possible for another day or so if the cold air remains in position.

"Observers should scan the western sky around sunset for an hour or more then again in the east before, during and after sunrise. PSCs look like lens shaped clouds sporting green, pink and blue colours."

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