The bright green and red lights of an aurora embracing clouds moving around Earth's night side were captured in a breathtaking new shot by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
"Another aurora, but this one is special as it is so bright," European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet wrote on Twitter and Instagram. "It is the full Moon lighting up the shadow side of Earth almost like daylight." Pesquet snapped the photo on Aug. 20.
ZME Science said he saw the Aurora Australis, the counterpart of Aurora Borealis. The Aurora Australis can be seen in New Zealand (particularly the South Island), southern Australia (including Tasmania), south Chile and Argentina, and occasionally South Africa when the solar cycle is reaching its maximum. They generally range in height from 100 to 300 kilometers (62.1 to 186.4 miles) but can sometimes exceed 500 kilometers (310.7 miles).
Auroras, named after the Roman goddess of dawn, could be viewed plainly from ground and space, even from the International Space Station (ISS), where numerous astronauts have taken photographs of the ghostly light shows.
Not A First Time For Astronomers To See Auroras From Space
According to Business Insider, anyone orbiting Earth is likely to see these lights. They were seen by SpaceX's first tourist crew while circling earlier this month.
Inspiration4 was a three-day mission that transported four people into orbit. Mission commander Jared Isaacman, replied to Pesquet's photo on Twitter. He said his team had seen the aurora as well but "not like that."
Not like that.— Jared Isaacman (@rookisaacman) September 24, 2021
Pesquet, like Isaacman's party, traveled to orbit on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship. He is a member of Crew-2, the company's second complete astronaut mission.
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, Pesquet's crewmate, also said that the polar lights had amazed her as well. In November, Pesquet and McArthur will return to Earth.
NASA Explains What Causes Auroras
The interaction of the solar wind - a stream of charged particles from the sun - and the Earth's magnetic field causes auroras. According to NASA, once the particles approach Earth's upper atmosphere, the magnetic field accelerates them, causing them to smash with atoms and molecules.
Atmospheric atoms and molecules gain energy due to the collision, which they later release as light. NASA explains aurora has a billion separate collisions that light up Earth's magnetic field lines. Live Science said various ions in the environment release different light hues. Oxygen atoms emit green or red light, whereas nitrogen atoms emit orange or red light.
The Earth's magnetic field directs solar particles toward the poles, where auroras are most commonly seen. However, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said auroras may be seen outside the poles during significant geomagnetic storms. According to Live Science, geomagnetic storms occur when massive volumes of plasma, or charged particles, exit the sun's atmosphere and collide with our planet's magnetic field.
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