popsci.comMegapixels: NASA created these alien clouds to study our atmosphereLast Friday, strangely shaped clouds in shades of deep blue and aqua danced over Norway for around half an hour. The alien visuals, set against the more familiar green tinge of the aurora borealis, were not evidence of an extraterrestrial visitor, but rather a sign that a new NASA experiment is underway. The NASA-funded Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment––or AZURE––aims to help scientists better understand how the forces that create the northern lights change our planet’s atmosphere. Specifically, the aurora borealis’ technicolor light show is the result of powerful collisions in which highly energetic particles from the sun—often collectively referred to as solar wind—crash into gases in Earth’s atmosphere. These collisions produce bursts of light, the colors of which are unique to the identity of each gas: oxygen creates the typical yellow-green aurora, whereas nitrogen makes a blue or purplish one.
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