Deep within Antarctica, there’s a place about 10,607 feet (3,233 meters) above sea level called Dome C. Located on an Antarctica ice sheet, this isolated region is extremely cold, dark and very inhospitable. While it’s far from an ideal vacation spot, the conditions ultimately make it a good place for certain types of scientific research (especially that of the manned space exploration kind).
In 2005, a year-round French-Italian research facility—called the Concordia Research Station—opened there. This image from the ESA shows an aurora australis situated right above the research center, arranged in such a way that it looks like a colorful pillar of smoke.
Aurorae—otherwise known as the northern lights (or the southern lights, in this case—happen when charged particles from the Sun get caught in Earth’s magnetic field. They can come in a variety of colors, each one corresponds to a certain element present in the atmosphere. Most common is green, which corresponds to atomic oxygen. Purple—a mix of red and blue—is somewhat rare, corresponding to molecular nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. This particular one has a bit of both colors.
As the ESA notes, aurorae are a welcome sight for the people living and working at Concordia. During the winter, the 13-member crew, who are often cut off from the outside world aside from the internet and phone, don’t see the Sun for months at a time. Temperatures can dip below –112°F (–80°C) as well.