NASA’s ‘spectacular’ space photo of southern lights aurora over Earth


Is NASA running a campaign to have the best Instagram page in the galaxy? It certainly seems that way with the latest James Webb Space Telescope images of Jupiter and last month’s stunning images of the Carina Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula.

And now the space agency is sharing a remarkable image of the southern lights, or aurora australis, taken from the International Space Station.

The southern lights, which resemble the northern lights, can best be seen from Tasmania, New Zealand and Antarctica, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Its “incredible atmospheric light show” is “as mesmerizing” as the northern lights, the magazine says.

In the image, which NASA posted on Instagram and on its own page on Tuesday, a greenish glow appears above the curve of the Earth. The color changes to red when the light goes higher above the horizon. On the right you can see part of the International Space Station.

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“The vibrant light displays around Earth’s north and south poles are caused by the interaction of solar particles, ejected from the sun, and the planet’s protective magnetic field,” NASA’s Instagram post describes the image.

During major solar storms, the post continues: “The Sun spews out large bubbles of electrified gas that collide with our magnetic field at the north and south poles and enter our atmosphere … these energized solar particles collide with atmospheric gases resulting in beautiful displays of light. “

When the particles collide with oxygen in the atmosphere, “they emit rich red and green hues as shown in this image. Conversely, if the same particles collide with nitrogen in our atmosphere, they light up the sky in blues and purples,” NASA said.

Bob Hines, a pilot currently on the ISS, took the photo and several others he posted on Twitter last week, noting “Absolutely SPECTACULAR northern lights today!!”

On Twitter, Hines responded to some questions about the photos, including a tweet that asked, “Are you tweeting from space?”

“Yes,” Hines replied.

On Instagram, the photo had almost 1 million likes on Wednesday, including one from the rock band Garbage. Along with the images, NASA encouraged its followers to “Let your light shine.”

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Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

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