Incredible pic of Southern Lights - from space!

Stunning new images show the Southern Lights - photographed all the way from the International Space Station.

They were taken on Thursday night, by one of the four astronauts who earlier this month flew to the ISS aboard space shuttle Atlantis.

The photos show Aurora Australis in all her glory - with the shuttle seen docked at the ISS in front of an incredible backdrop of the curvature of Earth's horizon.

The Southern Lights are formed as charged particles streaming from the Sun - known as the solar wind - interact with Earth's magnetic field, resulting in collisions with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere.

The most commonly observed colour of aurora is green, caused by photons (light) emitted by excited oxygen atoms at wavelengths centred at 0.558 micrometers, or millionths of a metre.

Visible light is reflected from healthy green plant leaves at approximately the same wavelength.
Red aurora are generated by light emitted at a longer wavelength (0.630 micrometers), and other colours such as blue and purple are also sometimes observed.

While aurora are generally only visible close to the poles, severe magnetic storms impacting the Earth's magnetic field can shift them towards the equator.

Atlantis is midway through a 13-day resupply mission to the space station. Its landing, currently set for Thursday 21, will spell the end of Nasa's 30-year space shuttle program.

Atlantis and its two sister shuttles, Discovery and Endeavour, will then be retired to museums.

President Barack Obama this week said Nasa will continue to push the frontiers of space exploration and human space flight in the post-shuttle era.

The White House has set a goal of sending astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 and to Mars and its moons by the mid-2030s.

Meanwhile, commercial space taxis will be developed to resupply the space station, and eventually take astronauts up as well.

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