Center for Magnetic Self Organization

in Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas

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Earth's Aurora      Size: 1,800 miles diameter
Mass: 200 tonnes of visible plasma (estimate)     Distance: 60-300 miles above Earth
Temperature: 200-1,100°C      Flow Speed: up to 2,200 mph
Location: Near Earth’s poles
Image Credit: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory , NASA-Johnson Space Center

This image, taken from the International Space Station, shows a green and red glow in Earth’s upper atmosphere known as the aurora (often called the Northern Lights.)

The Earth’s magnetic field is like a giant trap that captures plasma particles blown from the Sun towards Earth.

These particles are guided by the magnetic field towards the north and south pole, where they collide with gas in the upper atmosphere and cause the gas to emit light.

A National Science Foundation Physics Frontier Center,
established in coordination with the Department of Energy.