It’s safe to assume most people will have seen the full moon at least once in their lifetimes. Given that a full moon occurs every 30 days or so, and the moon is visible across the Earth.
On the other hand, catching a glimpse of the Aurora Polaris (polar lights) is a much harder feat. Also known as the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) or the Aurora Australis (southern lights), these stunning displays of colorful lights only occur near the Earth’s poles. One would have to travel to either the Arctic or Antarctic regions to even have a chance to glimpse the auroras. Even then, you can never be sure you will be able to catch one, but at least it is achievable.
Yet, that is nothing compared to leaving our vast blue planet and looking back at it from hundreds of kilometers above. Among the billions of people to have ever existed on this planet, only a few hundreds have ever had the privilege of doing so.
But, earlier this month, astronauts aboard the International Space Station had the rare opportunity to witness not only the Earth below but the southern lights and a full moon, all at the same time.
Courtesy of Thomas Pesquet, a French astronaut from the European Space Agency, now anybody can relive the moment. Pesquet has posted images and a timelapse video of the incredible sight onto Twitter.
“Another aurora, but this one is special as it is so bright. It is the full moon lighting up the shadow side of Earth almost like daylight,” wrote on Twitter. Credit: Thomas Pesquet/ESA/NASA
“Clouds compete for attention in this aurora timelapse over a blue ocean,” he wrote on Twitter. Credit: Thomas Pesquet/ESA/NASA
The polar lights occur when charged particles ejected from the surface of the Sun collide with plasma in the Earth’s magnetic field. As a result, the charged particles, mainly electrons and protons enter the Earth’s upper atmosphere and become ionized. They emit lights in varying colors, but mainly greenish-purple, and look like a falling comet’s tail.
Cover Image: Thomas Pesquet/ESA/NASA