Northern Lights over Scotland

A photograph taken from the International Space Station and showing the northern lights $ ($aurora borealis$ )$ above Scotland.#BlueDot

This mesmerising image of the Northern Lights over Scotland was captured by Baltimore-born NASA astronaut Terry Virts, a member of Expedition 42 from the International Space Station earlier this week, as it drifted over Europe.

The aurora is caused by the interaction of the solar wind – a stream of charged particles escaping the Sun – and Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.

Northern Lights

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is a natural light display in the sky.  Seen predominantly at high latitudes in both hemispheres, such as the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the Earth, typically 3° to 6° wide in latitude and between 10° and 20° from the geomagnetic poles, aurorae can occur at all local times, but are particularly striking phenomena over a dark night sky.

A Twitter screenshot showing the tweet from NASA's Terry Virts $ ($@AstroTerry$ )$ on 11th February 2015. It reads: "#Ireland, UK and #Scandinavia on a moonlit night under an amazing and everchanging aurora".
@AstroTerry tweeting on 11 Feb. 2015

Auroras are caused by charged particles – mainly electrons and protons – streaming into the atmosphere from above causing ionisation and excitation of atmospheric constituents, and consequent optical emissions.  Incident protons can also produce emissions as hydrogen atoms after gaining an electron from the atmosphere. 

From the ground in Scotland, the Northern and Western isles, the Highlands and north east Scotland offer some of the best places to observe the observe the Northern Lights.

A photograph taken on board the International Space Station of NASA astronaut Colonel Terry Virts from ISS Expedition 42, showing him and his photographic equipment.
Colonel Terry Virts, a member of Expedition 42 on the International Space Station, preparing to take scientific photographs on January 10th, 2015

On 23rd November 2014, Mr Virts left the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan in the Soyuz TMA-15M with two others to take up residence at the ISS.  The ISS orbits between 370-460 kilometres (230-286 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

Colonel Virts is due to return to Earth in May 2015.