Really Cool Science

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NASA released this image that was captured on the International Space Station by one of the astronauts. Besides being 402.3 km (250 miles) above Australia and traveling at 17,150 mph (or 5 miles per second), the creation of this phenomenon, known as airglow, used different forms of matter to create this really cool image.

There are different ways that airglow can form. In one example of this phenomenon, when the conditions are just right, oxygen and nitrogen in our upper atmosphere will react with the cosmic rays from the Sun and combine to create nitric oxide. When the two gasses combine they give off a photon (which is light). There are other elements in our atmosphere that will combine with the cosmic rays and produce a specific color of the light spectrum. In the picture above the combination of elements and energy produced a photon in the orange range of the visible light spectrum. At times airglow can be a rainbow of colors. It all just depends on the conditions of the upper atmosphere and the incoming cosmic rays. Our universe, and especially our planet, is an amazing place. For more information you can start your research at Wikipedia Airglow.