Seeing Red

NASA image captured September 26, 2011

 

Many aurora appear green, but sometimes — as in this image from the International Space Station — other colors such as red can appear. The colors depend on which atoms are causing the splash of light seen in the aurora. In most cases, the light comes when a charged particle sweeps in from the solar wind and collides with an oxygen atom in Earth’s atmosphere. This produces a green photon, so most aurora appear green. However, lower-energy oxygen collisions as well as collisions with nitrogen atoms can produce red photons -- so sometimes aurora also show a red band as seen here.

 

Karen Fox

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

 

Credit: NASA

 

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

 

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Taken on September 18, 2011