For astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), there is no shortage of incredible sights! In addition to the stunning aerial views they get of the planet on a daily basis, these space explorers have a front row seat to orbital sunrises, meteor showers, and other awesome celestial events.
Even for seasoned astronauts, one phenomenon never fails to amaze: the spectacular glowing aurora.
Auroras are a colourful display of light found in the night sky, commonly seen in the northern and southern hemispheres. If you’re up in the Arctic, you’d refer to them as the northern lights (aurora borealis), and if you’re far beneath the equator you would call them the southern lights (aurora australis).
French ISS astronaut Thomas Pesquet shared this incredible photo of an aurora as seen from about 400 kilometres (250 miles) above the Earth. You can see this dramatic view of the lights swirling in the atmosphere at the top of this post.
How do these celestial light shows happen? These glowing auroras occur when the particles from solar winds (particles that come from the sun) collide with gases in the earth’s atmosphere. These collisions produce tiny little flashes that that we can see on Earth. As billions of these flashes happen all at once, they looks like ribbons of light that dance across the night sky. Auroras can come in a variety of colours but green and light pink are the most common colours we tend to see. Neat!
If you’re orbiting the Earth for long enough, you’re pretty likely to catch a glimpse of these lights. But no matter how often they occur in the atmosphere, they are still an amazing sight to see! We’re lucky that astronauts have cameras, and are so willing to share.