<p>Even for astronauts, this was a rare sight indeed: an <a id="zlf4" title="aurora" href="http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photos/patterns-aurorae/#churchill-aurora_9338_600x450.jpg">aurora</a> hovering over the southern Indian Ocean.</p><p>Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun collide with Earth's upper atmosphere, causing atoms of oxygen and nitrogen to gain energy and then release it in the form of light.</p><p>Auroras typically are visible only near <a id="yx60" title="Earth" href="http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/earth.html">Earth</a>'s Poles, where magnetic field lines channel charged particles toward the planet. But this aurora australis, photographed in May from the <a id="b982" title="International Space System" href="http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/space-exploration/international-space-station-article.html">International Space Station</a>, occurred during a geomagnetic storm, which can temporarily shift the planet's magnetic field—and hence its auroras—closer to the Equator.</p>

Aurora Australis From Space

Even for astronauts, this was a rare sight indeed: an aurora hovering over the southern Indian Ocean.

Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun collide with Earth's upper atmosphere, causing atoms of oxygen and nitrogen to gain energy and then release it in the form of light.

Auroras typically are visible only near Earth's Poles, where magnetic field lines channel charged particles toward the planet. But this aurora australis, photographed in May from the International Space Station, occurred during a geomagnetic storm, which can temporarily shift the planet's magnetic field—and hence its auroras—closer to the Equator.

Photograph courtesy NASA and NASA Earth Observatory

Space Photos This Week: Odd Aurora, Solar Flare, More

Astronauts see a shifted aurora, two Saturn moons align, the sun sends up a bright eruption, and more in the week's best space pictures.

Read This Next

The most ancient galaxies in the universe are coming into view
‘Microclots’ could help solve the long COVID puzzle
How Spain’s lust for gold doomed the Inca Empire

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet