Science

Space station astronaut captures unbelievable view of fiery Earth auroras

The glow built into "amazing spikes higher than our orbit."

The ISS flew right over the center of this ring of lights. ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet captured the view on Nov. 4, 2021.
ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

The sun has been acting out recently, sending out impressive burps of solar material that have reached Earth and triggered eye-popping aurora action. The glimmering waves of colorful lights aren't just for those of us on the planet's surface. The crew of the International Space Station has been getting an eyeful of knockout auroras.

A fresh ISS image shows just how radical this crop of auroras has been. There's a radiant ring of green with shreds of light emanating outward from the curvature of the planet. It's surreal.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet is in the final days of his orbital mission and he's making the most of it. "We were treated to the strongest auroras of the entire mission, over north America and Canada," Pesquet tweeted on Saturday. "Amazing spikes higher than our orbit, and we flew right above the center of the ring, rapid waves and pulses all over."

Science tells us about how auroras form when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth's atmosphere.  As NASA puts it, "When we see the glowing aurora, we are watching a billion individual collisions, lighting up the magnetic field lines of Earth." 

But Pesquet's ISS image isn't so much about the science as it is a celebration of the sheer wonder of the dreamlike phenomenon. It's a reminder of our planet's connection to our star, a bringer of life and light.