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The Northern/Southern Lights from the International Space Station

Updated on February 10, 2013
Greekgeek profile image

Daughter of a rocket engineer, granddaughter of a planetarium director, I've been a huge fan of astronomy and space exploration all my life.

An Aurora Blankets Midwest

Midwestern US, September 29, 2011 from International Space Station.
Midwestern US, September 29, 2011 from International Space Station. | Source

Earth's Fireworks from Above

Wow. As the sun approaches solar maximum in 2013 (ish), it churns with sunspots and solar flares that are putting on a light show for us on Earth.

What causes the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Australis (Southern Lights)? The sun is constantly sending off streams of electrically charged particles, buffeting the Earth from afar. The Earth's magnetic field deflects these particles towards the poles, where they strike the upper atmosphere and cause it to light up like the gases in a neon tube. The irregular ripples, swirls and curtains of these auroras are like clumps and swirls of snow hitting a car's windshield. (For a more detailed explanation, see NASA's "What Triggers Eruptions of the Northern Lights.")

When the sun is especially active with more and larger solar flares, the Earth's magnetic field cannot shunt all the particles to the poles as easily, so the Northern Lights may be seen much further south. Several times in the fall of 2011, they have been spotted in New England, Colorado (you gotta see these pictures), or even as far south as Arkansas.

Auroras seen from the ground are spectacular. But have you ever seen videos of them from space? For the last several years, astronauts have been taking time-lapse photos of Earth from the International Space Station and sharing them with us. This autumn's light show has been particularly stunning from above as well as below. Sometimes, it's fun to set the science of science aside and just enjoy Earth's beauty.

ISS Over Australia (note wildfires) - September 17, 2011

More Beautiful Flyovers of Earth

What is there to say? Here's a few more wonderful videos from NASA, this next one flying over the midwestern U.S. at night. The white flashes are lightning bolts seen from space.

ISS Flying Over the Midwest at Night

Kick Back and Enjoy This Next Video in Fullscreen

Youtube user Bitmeizer strung together a bunch of NASA videos (which are public domain -- our tax dollars at work) and added a soundtrack to fit the visuals. I recommend watching this one in HD. It really does capture the beauty of our lovely planet. Humans' little lights shine like campfires below the clouds, which ripple with sparks like a living thing, and then the sun plays a symphony on the Earth's atmosphere from above.

If you want to see this fullscreen -- which is awesome! -- go to the video on YouTube, change "360p" to "1080p", and then click the 4 "zoom out" arrows on the lower right-hand corner of the video's control strip.

Beautiful Flyovers of Earth from International Space Station

Beautiful Northern Lights Photos

Northern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis
Northern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis

This book covers the science of the Northern Lights, including fascinating trivia, as well as 100 spectacular photos of auroras over Alaska during the 2002 solar max.


A Message from the ISS

Stars (Photo-Enhanced) From International Space Station


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    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      7 years ago from Texas

      I love the northern lights but have never seen them in person. Can you imagine what uneducated people thought about the northern lights in times past. Great hub with lots of great videos.

    • melbel profile image

      Melanie Palen 

      7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Oh wow, that's absolutely beautiful! Kind of interesting that I stumbled upon this given that I'd JUST had a discussion about the space station.

      Fascinating hub, I've always wanted to see the northern lights, seeing them from space would definitely hit the top spot on my bucket list.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Pune

      Its very nice ...... lights....

    • billabongbob profile image


      7 years ago from South Wales, UK

      Wow, I haven't seen the northern lights here in the UK for quite some time. I remember the first time I saw them as a child, and was captivated. Seeing the pictures from ISS is amazing too, thank you Greekgeek for sharing this with us.

    • Greekgeek profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from California

      Isn't it, though? The ISS really deserves more publicity than it gets: amazing science being done up there, and also, some of the most incredible (HD!) pictures of our planet we've ever seen.

    • rai2722 profile image


      7 years ago

      The Earth is so beautiful viewed from the outer space. Great hub and vote up!


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