Astronaut Snaps Stunning Nighttime Gulf Coast Portrait

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From their orbital perch 225 miles above Earth, the International Space Station crew are treated to some breathtaking views of their home planet. But some of the most dazzling views happen at night, when the sun goes down and the city light turn on.

Seen here, an Expedition 40 crew member took this photograph of the US Gulf Coast, capturing Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the frame. The city lights of Houston, Texas, dominate the view (lower left) and New Orleans can also be seen (right). The multiple oil drilling platforms also dot the waters off the US coastline.

PHOTO: What’s That Eerie ‘Airglow’ Astronauts See?

Seen hanging above the Earth’s limb is the ever present green hue known as “airglow” — a photochemical reaction in the upper atmosphere. The hue is created by atoms in the upper atmosphere that have been “charged up” when they were exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun during the day time. But at night, this energy is released as light, the most visible being photos released by oxygen atoms. The result is a band of light that looks similar to the striking aurora that is often generated when solar wind particles interact with the atmosphere.

More beautiful photographs from the space station: