How to make Mother Nature’s most fantastical light show even more fantastic? See it from space. We’re bringing you a selection of stunning photos and videos of the northern lights from space. There are few places on Earth to see the auroras with the same effect, but we’re helping you discover where those places are and how the auroras are created, too.
What exactly are auroras?
Auroras are created when electrically charged electrons and protons in the Earth’s magnetic field collide with neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere. The color of the lights is produced by the collision of gas particles.
The most common color, green, is produced by the collision of oxygen particles in the thermosphere, about 60 miles above the troposphere.
Blue and purplish-red auroras are produced by the collision of nitrogen particles. These particles are found in the exosphere, the highest layer in the earth’s atmosphere, at an altitude of 120,000 miles.
Completely red auroras, the rarest, are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at 200 miles above.
In addition, the Earth’s tilted axis (at about 23.5 degrees) gives way to the phenomena that are the auroras.
The northern lights from space
Brilliant opportunities to view the auroras are offered by astronauts who record them from outer space. NASA has released multiple showings of both the northern lights (aurora borealis) and southern lights (aurora australis).
These glimpses provide insights as to how the celestial spectacle is seen aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Other pictures and videos taken by spatial machinery have made clear that most low-orbit satellites fly actually through the aurora. These bursts of solar particles are truly enormous – they’re pretty tough to miss.
When astronauts are catapulted from the Earth’s atmosphere to outer space, they will also sometimes pass through red aurorae. Unfortunately, these rosy lights in particular are usually too faint to be seen.
See for yourself: Photos and videos
Feel like an astronaut while enjoying these captivating compilations of the lights from space.
Here’s our selection of out-of-this-world (literally and figuratively) photos and videos of the aurora borealis.
Norway’s best aurora viewpoints
Not planning on visiting the International Space Station soon? If you can’t view the northern lights from space, here’s where to view them from the next-best place: Norway.
Known as the gateway to the Arctic due in-part to its location in the auroral oval, Tromsø (and its surroundings) provides some of the best chances to see the northern lights.
Tromsø chases after the auroras in style. Residents and visitors often gather in the city center and then drive, boat, or dog sled out of the city to find the best viewpoint.
The North Cape
At the North Cape, you’re surrounded by natural beauty from the sky to the ground. The North Cape is made up of a mountainous plateau which includes a gaping, 307-meter-high cliff that plunges into the Barents Sea.
Aurora hunting season lasts from September to April. But, it’s very worth it to go during the warmer months. This way, you avoid the cold(est) weather and roughest driving conditions.
It’s usually easy to reach the cape due to an underwater tunnel connecting the island of Magerøya to the mainland. Unfortunately, the plateau is tough to reach during the winter as it’s closed, and can only be accessed by organized tours.
A characteristic that distinguishes the Lofoten Islands from the hundreds of others (still beautiful) spots in Norway to see the aurora borealis, is here, the reflections of the lights flicker in the sea, amplifying the beauty of the experience.
Similar to Tromsø, the Lofoten Island’s proximity to the auroral oval makes viewing the northern lights that much better.
Just north of the Lofoten Islands lies the archipelago of Vesterålen. The area is one of the best in northern Norway to view aurora borealis – and locals can attest to that.
On a northern light safari, expert guides will show you where the best viewpoints are in the district and even teach you how to capture the sights on camera as it can get tricky to catch the elusive phenomena.
Bodø and Salten
Bodø and Salten’s excellent, year-round light conditions fuel the intensity of the northern lights during the winter season, from September to April.
In Bodø, it’s encouraged to save yourself a spot on one of the countless rooftop bars or to take an organized bus tour to a more secluded area for maximum effect.
Two hours away awaits another incredible hub for the auroras, Salten. This low-key district purposefully offers little traffic and minimal light pollution in order for the northern lights and other various nature attractions to be the only focus.
What about the southern lights?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the northern lights’ southern counterparts.
Aurora australis, otherwise known as the southern lights, are the southern counterpart of aurora borealis. Similarly, to their northern neighbor, the lights are strongest in the southern pole’s oval.
Antarctica takes the cake as the best place to witness southern lights. The continent sits directly inside the southern auroral oval.
Other top spots (which are much more accessible) include New Zealand, Tasmania and Southern Australia, the southern parts of Chile and Argentina, and even South Africa on occasion.
Where to see the southern lights
Visiting New Zealand’s South Island is a must for aurora australis. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest dark sky reserve in the world.
Cockle Creek, Tasmania
Tasmania is one of the only places in the world you can spot auroras almost year-round, thanks to its 41st latitude south and moderate daylight and seasons.
Cockle Creek, located just two hours from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, hosts campgrounds, a national park, and nearby accommodation, all blanketed under dark skies and shimmering auroras.
For a workout, you can hike to the top of Mount John, near Lake Tekapo. Atop Mount John shines the Mount John Observatory, featuring one of the largest telescopes in New Zealand.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, also located right within the reserve, boasts a highly pollution-free environment.
If you end up visiting Ushuaia, you’ll be able to brag you were treated to some of the greatest aurora australis views in the southernmost city in the world.
While it’s oftentimes treated as a pit stop for visitors en route to Antarctica, locals know it’s a well-worthy stargazing station. The best views a bit out of town in order to avoid light pollution. Any dark street, park, or bar in town will do too.
Once the light show starts, it’ll be impossible to look at anything else, anyway.
Catching even a glimpse of the electromagnetic storms in South Africa is quite rare, but not impossible.
A three-hour red light show once took place in Cape Town, with blasts of the storm seen up to Calvinia, South Africa.
The lights are more common off of the South African mainland, for example; on the Prince Edward Islands, which are located about 1100 miles from Port Elizabeth.
Space tourism is unlikely to become widespread in the near future. So, in the meantime, we’ll have to deal with our (arguably just as stunning, just in a different way) earthly views of the auroras.
Source: Norway Today