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Space station aurora images make Earth look otherworldly

Crews staying aboard the International Space Station (ISS) enjoy unique views of Earth day and night, with the orbiting outpost’s seven-window Cupola observatory module offering astronauts the best vantage point of our planet and beyond.

The station’s current Expedition 64 crew recently posted several stunning photos (below) of auroras captured from the Cupola as the space station orbited Earth more than 250 miles up.

Auroras occur when particles from solar storms interact with gases in our atmosphere. The collisions can cause breathtaking displays of swirling, colorful light above the surface of Earth. For earthlings who have little hope of ever visiting the space station (OK, that’s pretty much everyone on the planet), the best places to view the natural spectacle are close to the Arctic Circle such as Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland in the Northern Hemisphere, and the far south of Tasmania and New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere.

NASA describes auroras as “a spectacular sign that our planet is electrically connected to the sun.”

Below: This aurora image was taken recently as the ISS orbited Earth 264 miles above the North Atlantic. The Earth’s airglow, an optical phenomenon caused by cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere, can also be seen blanketing the horizon.


Below: This view was captured as the space station passed over Kazakhstan, looking north toward Russia with the nation’s brightly lit cities blanketed by an aurora.


Below: Taken while orbiting 263 miles above Romania, the aurora can be clearly seen above the Earth’s horizon, with the city lights of Sweden and Finland also visible. The dark area in between the two Scandinavian nations is the Baltic Sea.


Below: An aurora together with a starry night sky are pictured over Russia as the station orbited 264 miles over the western Kazakhstan border.


A recently posted documentary on NASA’s YouTube channel also includes a sequence showing views of auroras (below) captured from the space station. American astronaut Mike Fossum, who has been lucky enough to witness the phenomenon from the ISS, says in the video: “When we were flying into this astonishing aurora, this rippling, pulsing river of green that’s down below us, the red that is stretching up to our altitude … it’s like, whoa! It was just breathtaking.”

Down to Earth: The Astronaut’s Perspective

Want to see some more? Current ISS crew member Soichi Noguchi has also been pointing his camera straight down for some dazzling Earth pictures.

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Trevor Mogg
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