The ultimate bucket list travel destination is space. Only a lucky few get the opportunity to visit the final frontier. And those who do, capture the majestic views of our little home in the universe from 254 miles above Earth’s surface.
ISS’ crew Twitter accounts regularly show stunning views of Earth’s day side. But it’s the night side I dream of seeing. ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli snapped 711 photos on September 15th. The ESA slapped them together into a stunning thirty-second video.
Another breathtaking display was captured on August 20 by the same astronaut.
You’re looking at energetic particles that traveled from the Sun’s atmosphere impacting Earth’s protective magnetic field. The most vivid displays are caused by solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). I’ll let NASA take it from here:
“The collision of solar particles and pressure into our planet’s magnetosphere accelerates particles trapped in the space around Earth (such as in the radiation belts). Those particles are sent crashing down into Earth’s upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100 to 400 kilometers (60 to 250 miles)-where they excite oxygen and nitrogen molecules and release photons of light. The results are rays, sheets, and curtains of dancing light in the sky.”
The Northern and Southern lights are typically seen at their respective latitudes. But particularly intense solar flares can produce aurora at much lower latitudes. The Carrington Event in 1859 produced aurora as far south as the Caribbean. Newspaper reports in the Northeast mention how the light was so bright; people could read print.
If these short clips leave you wanting more, head on over to SpaceWeather. They have a gallery where skywatchers submit their aurora photos.