Polar stratospheric clouds are rare. Normally, the stratosphere has no clouds at all. A few times each winter, however, icy clouds form when the temperature in the stratosphere drops below -85C. Such staggeringly-low temperatures are required to help sparse water molecules stick together. This winter, the clouds have been appearing daily since late December, a sign of unusually cold conditions in the stratosphere.
Stratospheric clouds are widely regarded as the most beautiful clouds on Earth. Because of their intense colors (caused by high-altitude sunlight hitting tiny ice crystals), novice sky watchers sometimes mistake the clouds for auroras. This picture from P-M Hedén of Tänndalen, Sweden, shows why:
Stay tuned for updates as the outbreak continues.