High above Earth, European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has an unparalleled view of shimmering auroras rippling through our planet's atmosphere.
From her perch aboard the International Space Station, she's observed some particularly stunning instances of the southern lights, known as aurora australis, that appear as brilliant waves of cascading green bands high in Earth's atmosphere.
"The sun has been really active lately," she wrote in a tweet (opens in new tab) on Sunday (Aug. 21). "Last week we saw the most stunning auroras I have ever experienced in over 300 days in space!"
The Sun has been really active lately. Last week we saw the most stunning auroras I have ever experienced in over 300 days in space! #auroraaustralis #MissionMinerva pic.twitter.com/r9hzZSoMNpAugust 21, 2022
This majestic light display is commonly called the southern lights in the Southern Hemisphere and the northern lights or aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere. Auroras occur when high-energy particles streaming off the sun rain down on Earth where they interact with our magnetic fields that guide them toward the north and south poles.
It's a delightful dance not to be missed if given a chance, whether observing from space or Earth.
Like something out of a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi spectacle, the International Space Station presents a striking silhouette with the green-tinted particles lured toward the planet's magnetic pole as a gorgeous backdrop. Due to Earth's atmosphere consisting mainly of oxygen and nitrogen, solar particle clashes with nitrogen deliver green and purple light, whereas encounters with oxygen generates red or green displays.
Cristoforetti is an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency currently assigned to the ISS as part of the Minerva mission. She launched into space on April 27 as a member of Crew-4 and has since become an internet sensation by posting the first-ever TikTok video from the International Space Station in May. She will return to Earth next month.