Earth's aurora and related luminescent atmospheric effects are generally quite dim, and mostly but not always located in the general area of Earth's magnetic poles.

That means to be seen easily by eye a spacecraft should have line-of-sight to the magnetic polar regions when they are dark, and the viewer protected from the glare of the Sun, Earthshine, Moonshine and ideally have dark-adapted pupils. These aren't necessarily firm requirements, but they help.

Answers about Mir astronauts are welcome, but I'm primarily interested in reports made from orbital capsules of that era and earlier because they were of relatively short duration which means less likely that a particularly strong solar event would trigger a brighter and wider aurora.

note: Since the histories are different and may even benefit from searching in different languages I've asked separately Have any Apollo (or earlier) astronauts reported seeing Earth's aurora or related luminescent atmospheric effects?


1 Answer 1


The earliest mention of the northern lights that I was able to find is the memories of the Voskhod-1 crew.

«Наибольшее впечатление на всех нас произвело полярное сияние, которое нам удалось наблюдать в районе Антарктиды за несколько минут перед выходом из тени. Картина была такая: горизонт, затем тёмное небо, затем верхний слой яркости, подсвеченной луной, над ним лучи, перпендикулярные горизонту, высотой в 6-8 градусов с интервалами порядка 2 градусов. По горизонту полярное сияние занимало всё видимое поле зрения».

К. П. Феоктистов

“The greatest impression on all of us was made by the aurora, which we were able to observe in the Antarctic region a few minutes before leaving the Earth's shadow. The picture was as follows: the horizon, then the dark sky, then the upper layer of brightness, illuminated by the moon, above it beams perpendicular to the horizon, 6-8 degrees high at intervals of about 2 degrees. On the horizon, the aurora occupied the entire visible field of view. "

K. P. Feoktistov

Memories of the Salyut-6 crew:

Мы с Владимиром Коваленком за свои 140 орбитальных суток детально познакомились с очень интересными явлениями. Это прежде всего уникальное полярное сияние 29 сентября 1978 года, за три дня до которого состоялась вспышка на Солнце. Такого сияния до нас не наблюдал никто из космонавтов. Это была настоящая цветомузыка, настолько динамично сменялись краски. Незабываемое впечатление! В южном полушарии, в районе Антарктиды, мы наблюдали также очень редкие облака — ученые отнесли их к радужным — на высоте 40-50 километров. Мы любовались ими в течение четырех дней. Мы видели и тень «Салюта-6» на облачной поверхности Земли, и многие явления, связанные со свечением верхней атмосферы в вечернее время. Конечно, мы не только любовались, но и внесли определенный вклад в изучение этих явлений.

During our 140 orbital days, Vladimir Kovalenok and I got acquainted in detail with very interesting phenomena. First of all, this is the unique aurora on September 29, 1978, three days before which there was a solar flare. None of the cosmonauts have seen such a radiance before us. It was a real color music, the colors were changing so dynamically. Unforgettable impression!


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    $\begingroup$ Beautiful; the phrase "color music" is perfect. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 19, 2020 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I am afraid that "цветомузыка" may mean in English not "color music", but simply "light show" (like on stage concerts in the 70's) $\endgroup$
    – IMil
    Sep 20, 2020 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ @IMil okay thanks. As a phrase on its own I still like it, reminds me of Light organ or Color_organ somehow. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 20, 2020 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ "Performing a piece of music accompanied by dynamic colored lighting" $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Sep 21, 2020 at 17:53

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