Stunning ISS photo reveals Earth's golden glow

Stunning ISS photo reveals Earth’s golden glow

golden earth glow

There’s something special about seeing photos of the Earth from space. They always help me put some things in perspective and reevaluate the seriousness of my current problems. But on a more superficial level – I simply enjoy admiring the pretty pictures of our home planet. Well, NASA has recently shared one worth admiring. Taken from the ISS, the photo shows a golden glow illuminating the Earth’s horizon. Is it a sunset? Is it a sunrise? It’s actually neither, so let’s explain while we admire it.

NASA shared the high-exposure image from the International Space Station, showing the Earth’s atmospheric glow and a starry sky. At that point, the ISS was 258 miles above the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Papua New Guinea, as NASA explains in the image description. “At left, are the station’s Nauka science module and the Prichal docking module, both from Roscosmos.”

What’s the golden glow around the earth?

Airglow is a faint, natural light emitted by the upper atmosphere, typically at altitudes between 70 and 400 kilometers. This light arises from the interaction of sunlight with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, exciting them to higher energy levels. When these excited particles return to their ground state, they release energy in the form of light, creating the airglow.

The airglow can appear in various colors, and this golden-yellow is the most common one. It’s primarily caused by excited sodium atoms. But other than yellow, airglow can also be red or green, caused by excited oxygen and hydroxyl molecules or nitrogen molecules, respectively.

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Earth’s night glow is quite faint, but you can spot it at high altitudes. The best perspective to see it is “edge-on,” just like astronauts and cameras onboard the ISS have. And our planet isn’t the only one that glows”. Mars does too, and thanks to ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, we saw its green glow in late 2023.

[via Space.com; image credit: NASA]