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Astronaut spots bright aurora storm from the International Space Station (photos)

An astronaut captured green auroras on camera from the International Space Station on Aug. 17, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Bob Hines)

A solar storm sparked a shimmering aurora visible in space.

NASA astronaut Bob Hines caught the aurora on camera from the International Space Station on Wednesday (Aug. 17) following a moderate solar outburst.

"Absolutely SPECTACULAR aurora today!!!," the NASA astronaut tweeted (opens in new tab), along with several pictures of the sun-generated storm that hit the atmosphere of Earth. "Thankful for the recent solar activity resulting in these wonderful sights."

The northern lights were generated after the sun hurled enough charged particles towards our planet to produce a moderate or G2-class storm, according to SpaceWeather.com (opens in new tab).

Related: Hyperactive sunspot just hurled a huge X-class solar flare into space

The northern lights or aurora borealis occur when the sun sends a swarm of charged particles towards our planet, called a coronal mass ejection. Since the particles have electrical charge, Earth's magnetic field attracts them.

The bits of the sun flow along the magnetic lines near our planet's poles and generate a glow as atmospheric molecules are "excited" by the electrical activity. (Other planets and moons have auroras as well, through various mechanisms.)

A second view of the aurora as seen from the International Space Station on Aug. 17, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Bob Hines)

In most cases, the solar storms we experience on Earth are harmless, but on occasion strong bursts of space weather can also create infrastructure problems as power lines, satellites or other machinery shorts out. 

Hines, his roommates on the space station and other folks in space also need to be mindful of radiation associated with space weather and cosmic rays, which are generated from deep space. But medical doctors keep an eye on astronaut health before, during and after space missions.

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti also saw auroras (opens in new tab) earlier this week.

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If you captured a stunning photo of the northern lights let us know! You can send in images and comments to Space.com by emailing spacephotos@space.com. Be sure to let us know your name, where you were observing from and what it was like to see the auroras.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.