Phenomena

Aurora From Space

An aurora, as seen from the International Space Station, glows in green and red waves over the polar regions of Earth. These lights are the result of interactions between the solar wind–a stream of hot, rarefied plasma from the sun–and our planet’s magnetic field. A bow shock forms where they meet, about 12,000-15,000 km from Earth. The planet’s magnetic field deflects much of the solar wind, but some plasma gets drawn in along field lines near the poles. When these energetic particles interact with nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere, it can excite the atoms and generate photon emissions, creating the distinctive glow. Similar auroras have been observed on several other planets and moons in our solar system. (Photo credit: NASA)

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