NASA has released an incredible and dazzling image of Northern Lights which was captured by one of its Earth Observation satellite. It was a stunning display over Northern Canada and was a spectacle for stargazers and space buffs just after Christmas. Northern Light also known as Aurora Borealis was also visible across Alberta, British Columbia, Nunavut, and Manitoba.
Earth is protected by a magnetosphere which shields it from deadly radiations coming from the Sun and deep space. In the absence of this protective field, the atmosphere will be ripped off, and the earth will become barren just like present day Mars. The solar particle which enters the planet’s magnetosphere accelerates the particle which is trapped and is sent crashing into the Earth’s outer atmosphere. They excite the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in atmosphere releasing photons which are visible as the Northern Lights. The Oxygen molecules emit green and sometimes red light while the nitrogen gas emits orange or red light.
Solar activity peaks in a cycle of 11 years and the last time this happened was in 2013. Solar flares release huge plumes of energy which travel millions of kilometers to reach earth. These flares and solar winds produce a brilliant display as flashes of light known as Aurora Borealis. The pictures of the glowing swirls of clouds were captured by NASA’s Suomi NPP spacecraft using its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. The intensity of the lights was, however, much weaker than those observed in the past.
Phenomena like the Northern lights is commonly seen from space. NASA explained that the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer could detect dim lights such as auroras, dim glows, gas flares and even reflected moonlight. Earlier US astronaut aboard the ISS had posted spectacular pictures of the Northern light as seen from the space station. The ISS is now connected with the web and astronauts regularly post pictures taken from the ISS in their Twitter handles.