Aurora from space makes us speechless

The beauty of aurora from Space


aurora from space


Aurora from space: The age of spacecraft and satellites have brought an exterior view on our home planet like we had never seen before. One of them is none other than the world’s best night sky show: the aurora borealis.

Most incredible night sky spectacle

The aurora is hands down the most vibrant and jaw-dropping night sky spectacle that exists. For millennia people have been able to gaze at its many colors dancing across the firmament. The aurora has always given birth to legends and superstitions but since the scientific discovery behind the natural process, we now watch the aurora for pleasure or hobby. Each year many people are drawn to polar regions to take their first glimpse at this elusive night phenomenon. They do so to get closer to the aurora. In theory you can see the aurora from quite far away (around 1000km at the farthest). Nonetheless there is nothing better than to see the aurora dancing overhead. Or is there? How about contemplating the aurora from above?

Aurora as seen from Earth (the aurora borealis observatory)

Incredible perspective and colors

Depending on where you stand on the planet and on the strength of the geomagnetic event producing the aurora, the show will look quite different. In every case you are immobile and the aurora moves back and forth, or dances around you. The atmosphere of the Earth, which is located between us and the lights, has an impact on how we see them. It usually shifts their colors and scatter their light a bit. The red canopy of the aurora often turns magenta or even purple because of it. Moreover you can’t really appreciate how tall the aurora is because the perspective is not the best.

Aurora as seen from the ISS (NASA Goddard)

Otherworldly results

In the recent decade the astronauts working on board the ISS have been able to bring low-light performing cameras with them and point them down. We have seen many new perspectives of the Earth we had never seen before on film. From the immense Sahara desert to the Amazon rainforest, we ‘rediscovered’ Earth. Since the space station orbits around 16 times in 24 hours, the astronauts work during different shifts and in their free time, some point their cameras towards the night side of the Earth as the spacecraft passes over it. Very regularly they have been able to catch both the aurora borealis and australis from above. And the result is just otherworldly.

Aurora as seen from the ISS (NASA Goddard)

Pure colors

From space the colors of the aurora look extremely pure. There is almost no atmosphere between the aurora and the ISS. Consequently the colors and shapes are not distorted. For the first time ever we are able to gaze at the full height of the pillars, up to 500km in total! The green emissions given by oxygen atoms are very bright and colorful because their density is higher at lower altitudes. The red canopy is also given off by oxygen but is quite diffuse and less colorful in comparison because the atoms are scares. The ISS orbits at an altitude of about 340km above the Earth’s surface. Believe it or not, some of those red emissions are also created at those altitudes. Subsequently the astronauts are flying through the top of the red aurora. However it is too often faint to really see it on the pictures they send back to Earth.

Aurora from space seen in 1991 !

In this picture taken on 35mm in 1991 from the Space Shuttle Discovery’s flying deck, we see a big display of aurora australis corresponding to a major geomagnetic event. The usually faint red glow now over-shines the rest of the aurora and gave the crew an idea of how enormous the flow of incoming solar particles was. It clearly shows that most low orbit satellites potentially fly through the aurora. As space tourism is about to develop greatly in the next decades, one can easily argue that seeing the aurora from a space shuttle will be one of the main attractions. In the meantime, we will enjoy the mind-boggling films sent by ISS crew members:

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