Viewing Northern Lights from the International Space Station
Auroras are one of the most breathtaking natural phenomena that can be witnessed on Earth. However, according to a recent tweet by NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, auroras may look even more stunning when viewed from the International Space Station.
Cassada, who is currently orbiting Earth on the International Space Station, recently shared an image of the northern lights on Twitter. In the picture, the aurora can be seen alongside city lights on Earth and solar arrays that are part of the space station. Cassada described the view as “Absolutely unreal.”
The International Space Station orbits Earth at an altitude of approximately 400 kilometers above sea level. This altitude places it well above the vast majority of the Earth’s atmosphere, making it an ideal vantage point for viewing auroras. The International Space Station also moves at a high velocity of around 28,000 kilometers per hour, providing its occupants with a unique perspective on the Earth’s rotation.
What are Northern Lights and how are they created?
Auroras are created when charged particles from the sun collide with gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. These collisions produce tiny flashes of light that fill the sky with stunning displays of color. The color of the aurora depends on the type of gas that is being ionized. Oxygen produces green and red colors, while nitrogen produces blue and purple hues.
While northern lights are visible from many parts of the Earth, they are most commonly seen in regions located near the Earth’s magnetic poles. This is because the Earth’s magnetic field concentrates charged particles from the sun near its poles, creating a greater likelihood of collisions with gas molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The best way to view auroras is to visit regions located near the Earth’s magnetic poles. This includes places like Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. In these regions, the chances of seeing auroras are high, and the displays are often quite stunning. Visitors to these regions can also enjoy other winter activities, such as skiing, snowmobiling, and dog-sledding.
Rare Events: Auroras Spotted from Commercial Flights
However, viewing northern lights from the International Space Station offers a completely different perspective. The International Space Station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, providing its occupants with a unique view of auroras as they appear and disappear in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The station’s high vantage point also allows astronauts to observe the entire aurora as it stretches across the horizon, providing a breathtaking view that cannot be experienced from the Earth’s surface.
The Weather Network has reported that solar activity causing auroras has been ramping up in recent days. On Friday, February 24, a “coronal mass ejection,” or a kind of solar explosion, occurred. This combined with a fast-flowing solar wind to spur a geomagnetic storm. Due to this, auroras were visible in locations where they would not have been otherwise, like in the United Kingdom.
As per a report by The Guardian, a pilot flying a commercial plane from Iceland to Manchester made a 360-degree turn to treat passengers to a view of the stunning northern lights as it lit up the skies of the country in a rare event.
The increasing frequency and intensity of auroras is a result of the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity. During the peak of the cycle, the sun produces more charged particles that are carried by solar winds towards Earth. These particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a greater likelihood of collisions with gas molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere and producing more frequent and intense auroras.
In conclusion, northern lights are a stunning natural phenomenon that can be seen from many parts of the Earth. However, viewing them from the International Space Station offers a unique perspective that cannot be experienced from the Earth’s surface. With solar activity on the rise, there is no better time to witness the beauty of auroras than now.