Astronauts Post Amazing Aurora Vines From Space

Photo: Richard Gardner/REX USA.
Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. For you, maybe that meant wearing a little extra green or listening to some of your favorite Irish bands. But, for NASA, it meant showing off some gorgeous, green-hued aurora videos, photos, and vines captured by a few astronauts from their vantage point on the International Space Station. 

This week's aurora began with a blast of energy from the sun that got to us yesterday morning. An aurora starts with with a massive eruption on the surface of the sun. This sends energetic particles out into space and — if the earth is in the way — into our surrounding magnetic field.

Then, we get that wave of "particles from the sun that dump energy into the upper atmosphere," says Jonathan McDowell, PhD, at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The energy from those solar particles is transferred to oxygen atoms, whose electrons lose that energy by spitting out either a green or red photon of light. Then, "as the particles in the magnetic field flow back and forth, the oxygen atoms glow, and you see it as the aurora," Dr. McDowell explains.

How massive an aurora gets depends on a few factors, including how big the initial storm on the sun is and whether or not it's heading in our direction. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (which tracks solar weather in addition to earth weather) rated this week's storm as being pretty darn massive. But, it has begun to subside.

Even if you didn't get to see the aurora, you might experience it in different ways, such as wonky GPS readings. To learn more about seeing auroras from space, check out this sweet NASA video. (Mashable)
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