Incredible aurora filmed from ISS after huge solar storm hits Earth

An incredible aurora has been filmed from the International Space Station (ISS) as it orbited hundreds of miles above the Earth.

NASA posted the captivating footage to Twitter on Sunday after a geomagnetic storm hit our planet.

The time-lapse video shows a view from the ISS as it traveled around 270 miles above the Indian Ocean toward the Coral Sea east of Australia, during which time the “magnificent” aurora could be seen.

Auroras—otherwise known as the northern or southern lights—are vibrant displays of light caused by the interaction of high-energy, charged particles emitted by the sun with the Earth’s protective magnetic field, or magnetosphere.

These phenomena occur in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and are mostly seen at high or polar latitudes, although they can occasionally be seen at middle latitudes following particularly powerful solar events.

“Once in the atmosphere, these energized solar particles collide with atmospheric gases resulting in beautiful displays of light,” NASA said in a separate Instagram post. “When solar particles collide with atmospheric oxygen they give off rich red and green hues as seen in this image.”

“Conversely, if these same particles collide with nitrogen in our atmosphere they illuminate the sky in glows of blue and purple.”

Aurora in the Southern Hemisphere from ISS
A screenshot taken from an International Space Station video showing an aurora in the Southern Hemisphere. Auroras are vibrant displays of light caused by the interaction of high-energy, charged particles emitted by the sun with the Earth’s protective magnetic field.

According to the Canadian Space Agency—which is one of the current partners on the ISS, alongside NASA, the European Space Agency, and the space agencies of Russia and Japan—auroras occur at roughly the same altitude as the space station meaning astronauts can sometimes see them at eye level.

On September 4, a stream of solar wind struck the Earth, sparking a geomagnetic storm of the G2 class, according to the National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). This storm produced an aurora in some regions, including parts of the United States.

The National Oceanic Administration (NOAA)—the parent organization of the National Weather Service—has created a measurement system to grade geomagnetic storms and their potential effects ranging from G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme). A G2 storm is considered to be of “moderate” strength.

As well as sparking auroras, G2 geomagnetic storms have the potential to interfere with power systems at high latitudes. A G2 storm watch is in effect for Monday, September 5, according to the SWPC.

Scientists have linked this particular solar event primarily to a persistent coronal hole high-speed stream, or CH HSS.

These particularly high-speed streams of solar wind are emitted from coronal holes, which are areas of the corona—the outermost part of our star’s atmosphere—that are cooler and less dense than the surrounding regions. The nature of the magnetic field in these areas allows the solar wind to escape more readily into space.

Solar activity is defined by an 11-year cycle, marked by periods of high and low activity known as solar maximums and minimums. During solar maximums, the number of sunspots increases and the effects of space weather events, such as geomagnetic storms, on the near-Earth environment tend to be greater. The current solar cycle is expected to peak in 2025.

Newsweek has contacted NASA for comment.

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