The US space agency NASA has unveiled a stunning image of northern lights captured from one of its satellites. The infrared imagery of northern lights glowing over northern Canada just before Christmas season is a delight to watch for stargazers and space enthusiasts.
According to NASA scientists, a mass of energetic particles coming out from the Sun collided with the earth’s magnetic field just few hours after the winter solstice (an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year). The collision of particles and the strong solar wind stream led to the generation of northern lights over northern Canada.
The Suomi NPP satellite captured the breathtaking image with the “day-night band” (DNB) of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on December 22, this year. The northern lights stretched across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories, areas that often fall under the auroral oval.
Scientists from the US space agency explained that the DNB has capability to detect dim light signals such as auroras, airglow, gas flares, and reflected moonlight. In the case of the image above, the sensor detected the visible light emissions as energetic particles rained down from Earth’s magnetosphere and into the gases of the upper atmosphere.
While explaining the process of lighting in the space, researchers said that the collision of fast moving solar particles with the Earth’s magnetic field accelerates particles trapped in the space around Earth (such as in the radiation belts). Later, these particles are sent crashing down into Earth’s upper atmosphere—at altitudes of 100 to 400 kilometers (60 to 250 miles)—where they excite oxygen and nitrogen molecules. Gases present in the atmosphere give up their energy by releasing photons. Different gases emit different colours; oxygen emits green and sometimes red light, while nitrogen is more orange or red.
These stunning solar wind events resulting in colourful lighting can happen anytime of the year. Scientists just wait for the right moment to capture them in the camera and later release those incredible shots to mesmerise the space enthusiasts.
Phenomenons like aurora borealis are pretty common when seen from space. Previously, US astronaut Scott Kelly had clicked and posted breathtaking pictures of the Northern lights on the microblogging website — Twitter. With the help of ISS’s satellite he was able to access the internet and tweeted the astonishing pics.
The Aurora Borealis is caused by geomagnetic storms initiated by strong solar winds. However, this time the winds were too powerful which made northern lights visible from south than normal and people especially stargazers in northern England were able to witness the magical event from the Earth.
Apart from strong solar winds, ‘coronal hole’ near the equator of the sun also played a vital role in making the Aurora Borealis visible from the Earth. Astronomers say that ‘coronal hole’ was perfectly aligned with the Earth which made the event breathtaking.
Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense.