Aurora Meets Airglow in Ethereal Photo Captured from ISS

Earth's two most beautiful atmospheric phenomena were on a date just before dawn.
Derya Ozdemir

The above image taken by the on March 16, 2020, while the International Space Station was flying just south of the Alaska Peninsula is one example of Earth's upper atmosphere interacting and causing two different atmospheric phenomena, documented with one beautiful picture that has surely must have taken your breath away.

Let's explain the science behind it since knowing the reasons why make the phenomena even more fun to look at.


The glowing green light that you see towards the left of the image is aurora, as Science Alert explains. Aurora, sometimes referred to as polar lights or northern lights are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by charged solar flare colliding with the atoms in our atmosphere.

This causes electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state and drop back to a lower-energy state, causing the release of light. This reaches our eyes as the beautiful, colorful aurora borealis.

Source: NASA

While typically particles collecting with oxygen produce the green hues, interactions with nitrogen produce the red-dominant hues.

A match made in heaven

The right side of the photo, however, tells another story. There at the yellow-red band of light just above the curvature of Earth, we see the "airglow".

Airglow, also called nightglow, is the faint luminescence glowing of the Earth's upper atmosphere and is caused by air molecules' and atoms' selective absorption of solar ultraviolet and X-radiation.

Source: NASA

The chemical interactions between oxygen, nitrogen, and other molecules in the atmosphere cause the emission of light and this is the reason why the night sky is never truly dark since this phenomenon happens all the time and across the whole globe.

Knowing the reasons why definitely doesn't take away from the magic!

H/T Science Alert