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September 12, 2011
One of the STS-116 crewmembers onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery captured this picture of Aurora Borealis over Norway, Poland and Sweden, as the crew made preparations for a Dec. 22 landing. European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang onboard the shuttle noted the rarity of pictures over this area from shuttle missions, and especially pictures that included the Northern Lights. Fuglesang is from Sweden. The city lights of Copenhagen (bright cluster of lights in the middle left portion of the image), Stockholm (under the aurora on the far right side of the image), and Gdansk (in the center forefront) are seen. The formation of the aurora starts with the sun releasing solar particles. The Earth's magnetic field captures and channels the solar particles toward the Earth's two magnetic poles (north and south). As the solar particles move towards the poles they collide with the Earth's atmosphere, which acts as an effective shield against these deadly particles. The collision between the solar particles and the atmospheric gas molecule emits a light particle (photon). When there are many collisions the aurora is formed.

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