It's hard to see an Aurora Australis if you're a mere human down on Earth.
Late last month, the International Space Station captured an Aurora Australis as it passed over the south of Australia and the southern Pacific Ocean during Expedition 52. Compiled in a time lapse, the video that was released by NASA on June 30 featured green, yellow, orange and pink lights that have been dazzling viewers for weeks now.
The Aurora Australis is the famous Aurora Borealis’ southern counterpart but is not as well-known because it’s more difficult to see it. Since there is minimal land close to the South Pole from which to view the lights, it’s not guaranteed that viewers will catch a glimpse of these mystifying lights even under the best conditions. If a geomagnetic storm doesn’t make it all the way north to the nearest land, like New Zealand or Tasmania, then viewers won’t see it. Add that to the fact that forecasts for the lights aren’t accurate until a few hours before and it can be especially tough to catch.
The auroras are created by the collision of charged solar particles and atoms here on Earth, which then create the unique lights. The colors are determined by what kind of atoms are involved and at what altitude; for example, oxygen atoms at a low altitude will yield a green color and those at a high altitude will be red.
Expedition 52 began earlier in June and is currently housing 3 astronauts. The ISS is a large spacecraft that allows astronauts to live in space and conduct research in the labs inside the craft, which is critical and sometimes can’t be done anywhere else. The ISS also allows humans to maintain a presence in space, which they have done consistently aboard the spacecraft since the first launch in 1998. It travels at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour and orbits the Earth every 90 minutes.
Watch the video below to see the Aurora Australis for yourself.