Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 July 25
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Pink Aurora Over Crater Lake
Image Credit & Copyright: Brad Goldpaint (Goldpaint Photography)

Explanation: Why is this aurora strikingly pink? When photographing picturesque Crater Lake in Oregon, USA last month, the background sky lit up with auroras of unusual colors. Although much is known about the physical mechanisms that create auroras, accurately predicting the occurrence and colors of auroras remains a topic of investigation. Typically, it is known, the lowest auroras appear green. These occur at about 100 kilometers high and involve atmospheric oxygen atoms excited by fast moving plasma from space. The next highest auroras -- at about 200 kilometers up -- appear red, and are also emitted by resettling atmospheric oxygen. Some of the highest auroras visible -- as high as 500 kilometers up -- appear blue, and are caused by sunlight-scattering nitrogen ions. When looking from the ground through different layers of distant auroras, their colors can combine to produce unique and spectacular hues, in this case rare pink hues seen above. As Solar Maximum nears over the next two years, particle explosions from the Sun are sure to continue and likely to create even more memorable nighttime displays.

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Tomorrow's picture: flowery

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