Mystery Photo

What in the world is it?

Don’t peek at the answer until you’ve given this a good try! Then, scroll down a bit and the truth will be revealed to you.

(Image Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Center)

What In the World Is It? A ghost? A spirit in the night? Well . . . yes! What you see here are indeed "ghost lights" or, in this case, the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).

Space Shuttle astronauts saw this display from space in April 1992. The crew noted the interesting spiraling or corkscrew appearance of this particular sighting. Auroras occur as charged particles blasting away from the Sun collide with Earth. The charged particles follow Earth’s magnetic field lines into our upper atmosphere, where they interact with molecules there. The result — the sky burns with excited atoms — the red and green lights of oxygen and hydrogen and the purples and pinks of nitrogen.

A typical 3-hour aurora discharges approximately 100,000 megawatts of power into the atmosphere — more than the total generating capacity of all the power plants on Earth. Strong auroral storms are often associated with static in radio and television broadcasts, loss of satellite communications, and power disruptions.