Astronaut Captures ‘Absolutely Unreal’ Photo of Northern Lights From Space

There are those who say the northern lights are one of the rare things that look better in most photographs than to the naked eye.

Of all the incredible photos of the phenomenon, I had yet to see one like this.

NASA Astronaut Josh Cassada snapped a shot of the Aurora Borealis from the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday. The station orbits at an average 400km above Earth, which gave Cassada an extremely wide view.

On top of that, fevered sun activity over the past weeks has supercharged the display’s visual effect.

The colorful, waving lights come to life when charged particles rain into Earth’s atmosphere from solar winds, following magnetic field lines. A hole in the sun’s corona, or outer surface, yawned open in late February. Coronal mass ejections, or unusually large plasma releases, followed on Feb. 26 and 27, bringing heavy solar winds with them.

As a result, the auroras haven’t only lit up northern skies lately. Skywatchers in the British Isles and even Death Valley, Calif. have enjoyed them.

If what we’ve seen from the sun so far in 2023 is any indication, astronauts and terrestrial dwellers alike may see ongoing auroral activity as the year goes on. The solar surface boiled with unusually intense flare activity in January, and a massive glob of plasma even broke free from the star in February.

For his part, Cassada expressed simplistic awe for the view he photographed from the ISS.

“Absolutely unreal,” his Twitter caption reads.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.