Fires in the Sky, Fires on the Ground

by Jason Major on September 29, 2011

 

The aurora australis seen from the ISS on September 17, 2011. Credit: NASA.

With all of the activity that’s been occurring on the Sun recently, the aurorae have been exceptionally bright and have created quite a show to viewers – both on Earth as well as above it!

The image above was taken over the southern Indian Ocean by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The southern lights – a.k.a. aurora australis – glow bright green and red in the upper layers of the atmosphere, creating a dazzling aerial display. (Click here to watch a movie of this.)

Shortly after, fires can be seen on the ground as the ISS passes over Australia:

Wildfires in Australia seen from orbit. Credit: NASA.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory website:

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) used a digital camera to capture several hundred photographs of the aurora australis, or “southern lights,” while passing over the Indian Ocean on September 17, 2011. You can see the flowing ribbons and rays below as the ISS passed from south of Madagascar to just north of Australia between 17:22 and 17:45 Universal Time. Solar panels and other sections of the ISS fill some of the upper right side of the photograph.

Auroras are a spectacular sign that our planet is electrically and magnetically connected to the Sun. These light shows are provoked by energy from the Sun and fueled by electrically charged particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere. In this case, the space around Earth was stirred up by an explosion of hot, ionized gas from the Sun — a coronal mass ejection — that left the Sun on September 14, 2011.

In the second image above, and in the last frames of the movie, light from the ground replaces the light show in the sky. Wildfires and perhaps some intentionally set agricultural fires burn on the continent of Australia,with smoke plumes faintly visible in the night sky. A gold and green halo of atmospheric airglow hangs above the horizon in the distance.

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Airglow is created by particles in the upper atmosphere that have been charged by UV light from the Sun during the day releasing the energy at night as greenish-yellow visible light.

Fires on the ground, fires in the sky… the stars blazing all around, the Sun in its full glory and a never-ending view of our entire planet… what an incredible place the ISS must be to work in! Absolutely amazing!

And the skies of night were alive with light, with a throbbing, thrilling flame; Amber and rose and violet, opal and gold it came. It swept the sky like a giant scythe, it quivered back to a wedge; Argently bright, it cleft the night with a wavy golden edge.

— “The Ballad of the Northern Lights”, Robert Service

Read more on the NASA Earth Observatory.

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

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