What does our planet look like from space? Most are familiar with the beloved images of the blue marble or pale blue dot — Earth from 18,000 and 3.7 billion miles away, respectively. But closer to home, within the nearest region of space, you might encounter an unfamiliar sight. If you peer down on Earth from just 300 miles above the surface, near the orbit of the International Space Station, you can see vibrant swaths of red and green or purple and yellow light emanating from the upper atmosphere. This is airglow.
“Approximately one billion times fainter than sunlight,” airglow or nightglow is a phenomenon that’s caused by chemical reactions in our planet’s ionosphere. What can we learn from this ‘luminous bubble’ of ever-shifting colors? NASA Goddard explains how particles move through our planet’s ionosphere, what they’re made of, what airglow might tell us about how space and earth weather interconnect, and more: The Secrets behind Earth’s Multi-colored Glow.