Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2003 October 4
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
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X-Ray Moon
Credit: J. Schmitt et al., ROSAT Mission, MPE, ESA

Explanation: This x-ray image of the Moon was made by the orbiting ROSAT (Röntgensatellit) Observatory in 1990. In this digital picture, pixel brightness corresponds to x-ray intensity. Consider the image in three parts: the bright hemisphere of the x-ray moon, the darker half of the moon, and the x-ray sky background. The bright lunar hemisphere shines in x-rays because it scatters x-rays emitted by the sun. The background sky has an x-ray glow in part due to the myriad of distant, powerful active galaxies, unresolved in the ROSAT picture but recently detected in Chandra Observatory x-ray images. But why isn't the dark half of the moon completely dark? New Chandra results also suggest that a few x-rays only seem to come from the shadowed lunar hemisphere. Instead, they originate in Earth's geocorona or extended atmosphere which surrounds the orbiting x-ray observatories.

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