In October, an astronaut at the International Space Station snapped a photo of what looks like another world, glowing yellow and orange. But this photo, taken from 250 miles across Australia, is just earth with a weird shade due to an atmospheric phenomenon called air glow.
You may remember from your high school that the earth’s atmosphere is a layer of gases surrounding the planet, protecting us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. When UV rays hit the lower atmosphere of the earth, they activate molecules in the air, and the energy is released as light.
Although there is usually a certain amount of air glow in our atmosphere, it is not always visible and the colors we see vary based on atoms in different layers in the atmosphere. In the ISS photo, the airflow appears yellow and orange, but air glow from the ground is usually red and green.
NASA studies airglow to better understand how the atmosphere works. Because the atmosphere is the buffer between soil and space, it can be studied that researchers better understand the connection between the weather on earth and in space. For this purpose, NASA plans to launch a new satellite called Ionspheric Connection Explorer (ICON); The launch was originally planned for today (November 7), but was postponed due to a glitch in the rocket. When launched, it will monitor the Earth’s atmosphere from its orbit around 360 miles above the ground.