Many people have spent time outdoors under a dark sky, watching for “shooting stars” to streak across the firmament. While not actual stars, shooting stars do come from outer space in the form of meteoroids entering Earth’s atmosphere.
This astronaut photograph, taken from the International Space Station (ISS) while over China, provides the unusual perspective of looking down on a meteor as it passes through the atmosphere. The image was taken on Aug. 13, 2011, during the Perseid Meteor Shower that occurs every August. The Perseid meteors are particles that originate from Comet Swift-Tuttle; the comet’s orbit is close enough for these particles to be swept up by Earth’s gravitational field every year, leading to one of the most dependable meteor shower displays.
Green and yellow airglow appears in thin layers above the limb of Earth, extending from image left to the upper right. Atoms and molecules above 50 kilometers in the atmosphere are excited by sunlight during the day and then release this energy at night, producing primarily green light that is observable from orbit. Part of an ISS solar panel is visible at image upper right; behind the panel, a bright region indicates the sun low on the horizon.