You don’t often see the Earth’s dazzling northern lights from this angle.
NASA astronaut Josh Cassada just captured a stunning photo of the light display from his perch on the International Space Station (ISS), which flies an average of about 400 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.
“Absolutely unreal,” Cassada captioned the photo, as he did posted on Twitter (opens in a new tab) Tuesday (February 28).
Related: Where to see the Northern Lights: 2023 aurora borealis guide
Cassada is far from the only skywatcher marveling at the northern lights these days. The light shows – caused by the interaction of charged solar particles and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere – have recently been supercharged by strong solar activity.
Specifically, a “hole” in the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, souped up the flow of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles that flowed constantly from our star. And huge plumes of solar plasma rocketed into space by coronal mass ejections hit our planet on both Sunday (February 26) and Monday (February 27), adding more fuel to the aurora borealis.
As a result, screens have spread far from the ultra-high latitudes that are their natural home. (Earth’s magnetic field lines tend to channel the charged particles toward the planet’s poles.)
The crazy, dancing lights wowed observers across the British Isles recently, for example, and even appeared as far south as California: They were photographed over Death Valley National Park on Monday (opens in a new tab).
Aurora from Death Valley on 27.2.23. Here is the panoramic picture – 4 pictures put together in Ps. #aurora #deathvalley #spaceweather pic.twitter.com/ohuCC5bTMM28 February 2023
Cassada arrived at the ISS last October, along with the three other crew members of SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission – NASA’s Nicole Mann, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
The quartet will be able to admire our planet from above for just a week or so, if all goes according to plan: Crew-5 is scheduled to return to Earth about five days after SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission arrives at the orbital laboratory. Crew-6 is currently scheduled to lift off early Thursday morning (March 2) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in a new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab)or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).