To actually experience seeing an aurora in your lifetime is already a wondrous feat. But when you’re British astronaut Tim Peake, you take it a step further and actually fly through the glowing, stunning sight in space.
The Expedition 46 flight engineer shared one of the breathtaking images of an aurora that he took on Feb. 23 from the International Space Station.
“The @Space_Station just passed straight through a thick green fog of #aurora…eerie but very beautiful. #Principia,” Peake, who was launched to the ISS last December for a half-year mission, tweeted Tuesday.
American astronaut Scott Kelly, who will return to Earth next week after spending a year at the space station, also posted aurora images on Twitter on Jan. 20. Photos of cosmic views of the aurora from him and Peake were captured over the Pacific Northwest.
While offering such spectacular views on the ground especially among photographers, the dancing lights of the aurora continue to pique the interest of scientists who seek to know how the sun’s particles and energy interact with Earth’s atmosphere.
Auroras are one of the effects of charged particles, which speed out from the sun and make their way to Earth from coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and a steady stream known as solar wind.
The particles and magnetic fields, after a journey toward Earth that can last up to three days, enter the atmosphere and collide with gas particles already trapped near the planet. This results in reactions where oxygen and nitrogen molecules release photons of light.
The outcome: the Northern (Aurora Borealis) and Southern (Aurora Australis) lights. The generous light displays showcase different colors, although pale green and pink emerge as the most common ones.
NASA has several space missions dedicated to auroras. These natural phenomena are part of a space weather environment where solar particles and radiation can affect the magnetic environment of Earth and potentially block radio communications, disturb satellite systems and in worst cases, lead to electric surges in power grids.