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Stunning northern lights captured by NASA satellite

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NASA’s Suomi NPP spacecraft has managed to capture stunning image of the northern lights or aurora borealis as the lights put up an awesome show over Canadian skies on December 22.

The northern lights were visible across the night sky in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut and northwest territories in Canada and the Suomi NPP spacecraft was at the right place at the right time to capture and bring to us a dazzling infrared image of northern lights. In the image [embedded above], the Northern Lights appear as if they are swirls of glowing clouds high up in the sky.

“Just hours after the winter solstice, a mass of energetic particles from the Sun smashed into the magnetic field around Earth. The strong solar wind stream stirred up a display of northern lights over northern Canada”, NASA said in a statement.

The image of the northern lights was acquired with the “day-night band” (DNB) of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). DNB is able to detect dim light signals such as auroras, airglow, gas flares, and reflected moonlight and in this particular case, the DNB detected the visible light emissions as energetic particles rained down from Earth’s magnetosphere and into the gases of the upper atmosphere.

Northern lights occur when particles from the solar wind interact with Earth’s magnetic field. The solar particles are charged and because of this their interaction with the magnetic filed of the Earth can cause electrical current changes in the field that then send energetic particles into the upper atmosphere’s gases. When the particles hit the gases, they charge them, and when the gases release this gained energy, the aurora glows are triggered. The results are rays, sheets, and curtains of dancing light in the sky. As the gases give up the energy, they release photons (light particles) of specific wavelengths, creating different colors.

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