Our planet is home to a lot of fascinating phenomena, and that’s especially true when we start throwing the atmosphere and nearby space into the mix. One of the coolest – and perhaps most eerie – of these phenomena is called “airglow.” If you’ve never seen airglow before, a new photo shared by NASA gives you that chance, and it definitely makes for a striking image.
At first glance, you might tempted to say that the photo above has gone through some kind of color adjustment or has otherwise been edited. That’s a real photo of the Earth, however, and it was snapped by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station earlier today. In the photo, the Earth’s impossible-to-miss orange hue is airglow.
In a post to its official site, NASA explains that airglow is the product of nitrogen and oxygen molecules that have been energized by ultraviolet radiation. The molecules then speed up and bump into each to release that energy, which results in bands of light that span 50 to 400 miles.
The photo is a pretty dramatic example of airglow, and NASA says that the phenomenon has scientific uses aside from just looking pretty. It can, for instance, “help scientists learn about the movement of particles near the interface of Earth and space,” giving us insight into the relationship between space weather and the weather we have here on Earth.
NASA, as you might have already guessed, plans to study those interactions at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere with its Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite. ICON has faced numerous launch delays and in fact was scheduled to launch today before problems surfaced with the Pegasus XL rocket that will carry it into space, delaying the launch once more. There’s no word on when a new launch attempt will happen, but hopefully it won’t be much longer before ICON makes its way into orbit.