Observing Noctilucent Cloud

Standard observing procedure requires that the following NLC features and details should be recorded at 15 minute intervals (i.e precisely on the hour, quarter past, half past and so on).

This basic information is often combined with additional details:

Information on how to compile and submit completed reports can be found on the Reporting NLC page.



If you see NLC measure the left and right hand angular extent of the display. This is measured in degrees with west = 270, north = 000, east = 90 and south = 180. Polaris defines the northern point of your horizon.


If possible, measure the angle subtended by the uppermost part of the display. A simple alidade can be made from a protractor and plumb line for this purpose (a similar device can also be used for accurately measuring azimuths).


NLC brightness is measured on a five-point scale:

  1. Very weak NLC, which are barely visible against the twilight sky.
  2. NLC clearly detected, but having low brightness.
  3. NLC clearly visible, standing out sharply against the twilight sky.
  4. NLC very bright and attracting the attention of casual observers.
  5. NLC extremely bright and noticeably illuminating objects facing it.


NLC forms are classified into 4 easily identified structures (with sub groupings), plus a subset of complex structure types.

(The NLC structure classifications (above) recently replaced a previous system based on a 1970 WMO publication. Note, the the old ' amorphous' structure type is no longer in use)


Type 1 Type 2
Type 3 Type 4


If aurora occurs coincident with the NLC, this should be mentioned and detailed separately in your report.

Observing Conditions

It helps to periodically make notes regarding sky clarity and the presence of tropospheric cloud.

Negative Observations

In theoretical terms, a night identified as having no NLC present from a certain location, is of equal importance to a positive sighting. Negative reports must cover the whole period of the NLC observing 'window', that is both the pre and post midnight spells.


Simple sketches of the NLC can be very useful. These are best made in negative form with the darker parts of the sketch corresponding to the brighter NLC.


Photographs of NLC can easily be taken with an SLR camera firmly fixed to a tripod. Using 200 ISO film (colour slide gives good results) an exposure of 3 - 6 seconds with a lens aperture setting of f2.0 will normally suffice. However, it is always best to bracket exposures; that is, deliberately under and over expose a few frames to obtain a choice of exposures. With luck, at least one should be correctly exposed! Standard (50mm)or wide angle lenses will capture most of the display. If possible, try to time exposures accurately on the hour, quarter, half past etc. Such exposures may then be compared to photographs taken at the same instant from different locations and possibly be used for height determination analysis.

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Last Updated on 26/05/1997