When Earth gets this colorful sheen, it's called airglow

November 8, 2018, 9:17 a.m.
Earth enveloped in airglow
Photo: NASA

No, this isn't some orange-tinted alien planet. It's Earth.

Taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on Oct. 7, the photo shows Earth wrapped in airglow, which is what that orange hue is called.

According to NASA, airglow occurs when molecules in the atmosphere, typically oxygen and nitrogen, are energized by ultraviolet light from the sun. When energized, the molecules bump into one another and lose energy in their collisions. The end result of that back and forth is airglow.

Airglow is more than just a pretty space effect, though. It can help scientists better understand how molecules move in the upper atmosphere, where Earth and space meet. This could give us insights into both Earth and space weather.

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