Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Scott Robertson

Second Advisor

Mihaly Horanyi

Third Advisor

Cora Randall


In the polar summer mesosphere ice particles grow sufficiently large to scatter sunlight, giving rise to visible cloud displays called Noctilucent Clouds (NLC). In August of 2007, two sounding rockets were launched from the Andoya Rocket Range, Norway carrying the newly developed MASS instrument (Mesospheric Aerosol Sampling Spectrometer) to study NLC. The instrument detects charged aerosols in four different mass ranges on four pairs of biased collector plates, one set for positive particles and one set for negative particles. The first sounding rocket was launched into a Polar Mesospheric Summer echo (PMSE) and into a NLC on 3 August. The solarzenith angle was 93 degrees and NLC were seen in the previous hour at 83 km by the ALOMAR RMR lidar. NLC were also detected at the same altitude by rocket-borne photometer measurements. The data from the MASS instrument shows a negatively charged population with radii >3 nm in the 83-89 km altitude range, which is collocated with PMSE detected by the ALWIN radar. Smaller particles, 1-2 nm in radius with both positive and negative polarity were detected between 86-88 km. Positively charged particles <1 nm in radius were detected at the same altitude. This is the first time the charge number densities of positive and negative NLC particles have been measured simultaneously.

A charging model is developed to investigate the coexistence of positively and negatively charged aerosols in the NLC environment as measured by the MASS instrument. Natanson’s rate equations are used for the attachment of free electrons and ions and the model includes charging by photo-electron emission and photodetachment. Although the MASS flight occurred during twilight conditions, the solar UV flux was still sufficient to affect the charge state of the aerosols. The calculations are done assuming three types of particles with different photo-electron charging properties: 1) Icy NLC particles, 2) Hematite particles of meteoric origin as condensation nuclei, and 3) Hematite particles coated with ice. The charge model results are consistent with the MASS rocket data, displaying both positively and negatively charged aerosols for small radii and only negatively charged particles for large radii.