Astronaut's breathtaking image of "supercharged" auroras blanketing Earth

"Absolutely unreal," wrote astronaut Josh Cassada as the caption of this photograph he snapped yesterday from the International Space Station of spectacular auroras blanketing Earth. From

The light shows — caused by the interaction of charged solar particles with molecules in Earth's atmosphere — have been supercharged recently by strong sun activity.

Specifically, a "hole" in the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, souped up the flow of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from our star. And huge clouds of solar plasma that were rocketed into space by coronal mass ejections  slammed into our planet on both Sunday (Feb. 26) and Monday (Feb. 27), adding more fuel to the auroral fire.

As a result, the displays have spread far from the ultrahigh latitudes that are their natural home. (Earth's magnetic field lines tend to channel the charged particles toward our planet's poles.)