Look: Luminous 'airglow' surrounds Earth in captivating photo shared by Nasa

Airglow might look like auroras, but the two natural phenomena are different

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In this still image taken from Nasa TV, Nasa's unmanned Orion spaceship approaches Earth as it returns from its Moon mission, on December 11, 2022. Photo: AFP file
In this still image taken from Nasa TV, Nasa's unmanned Orion spaceship approaches Earth as it returns from its Moon mission, on December 11, 2022. Photo: AFP file

Published: Mon 20 Nov 2023, 12:20 PM

Last updated: Mon 20 Nov 2023, 12:22 PM

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has shared a picture capturing the luminous phenomenon of ‘airglow’ surrounding the Earth as the Moon shines above it.

The photo was taken on November 14 from the International Space Station (ISS) as it moved above the midwestern United States. In addition to the airglow and the moon, the photo also captured concentrated patches of lights on Earth that came from cities like Chicago and Denver.


Nasa explained that airglow is a faint glow of light on Earth's upper atmosphere. It is caused “when atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, excited by sunlight, emit light in order to shed their excess energy.” Airglow might look like auroras, but the two natural phenomena are different. Auroras are born out of “high-energy particles originating from the solar wind”, while airglow gets its light from daily solar radiation.

Photos: Instagram
Photos: Instagram

The space agency added that studying airglow helps scientists learn about the upper atmosphere’s density, composition, and temperature. Airglow also helps in tracing how particles move through the upper atmosphere. While sharing this photo, Nasa wrote, “We’re soarin' - flyin'”, which is a lyric from Breaking Free, a song from the 2006 super hit musical television film High School Musical.


"It feels like being at a movie," said an Instagram user about the picture. Another person jokingly wrote, “No one is talking about the high school musical reference and I would like Nasa to know that I appreciated it”.

Back in August 2020, Nasa shared a unique photo that captured both airglow and aurora in one frame.

At that time, the space agency described the stunning photo as, “Wavy green, red-topped wisps of aurora borealis appear to intersect the muted red-yellow band of airglow as the station passed just south of the Alaskan Peninsula”.

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