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Spaceships bask in aurora's glow

The past month has produced stunning views of auroral lights, but this picture of the spaceships docked to the International Space Station has to rank among the best. Even better, it was captured by one of the "new kids" in orbit, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, who has taken over from his old crewmate Ron Garan as unofficial photographer aboard the station. Fossum's pictures are highlighted on the Fragile Oasis website and Facebook page, as Garan's were before him.

This image was captured on Sept. 17, just after Garan and two Russian crewmates left the station on a Soyuz to return to Earth. Fossum was left in charge of the station, with Russia's Sergei Volkov and Japan's Satoshi Furukawa as fellow residents. Their own Soyuz lifeboat is in the foreground, while a Progress supply ship sticks out farther away. The scene is illuminated by the southern lights, glowing green with a tinge of red toward the top. That glow comes from the interaction between ionized particles from the sun and atoms in Earth's upper atmosphere. We explained what's behind the different colors in this previous PhotoBlog posting.

The picture stirred up a fuss because it came to light Wednesday on the Fragile Oasis Facebook page rather than NASA's own space station image gallery — but this sort of thing is happening more and more these days. To track down all the pictures taken from orbit, it's getting so you have to keep track of Twitpic and Flickr as well as the galleries on NASA.gov. Or you could check the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, where this picture was originally filed.

More auroral views from space:

Hat tip to NASA Watch's Keith Cowing.

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