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.

2009 June 24
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Noctilucent Clouds Over Germany
Credit & Copyright: Christoph Rollwagen

Explanation: Sometimes it's night on the ground but day in the air. As the Earth rotates to eclipse the Sun, sunset rises up from the ground. Therefore, at sunset on the ground, sunlight still shines on clouds above. Under usual circumstances, a pretty sunset might be visible, but unusual noctilucent clouds float so high up they can be seen well after dark. Pictured above last week, a network of noctilucent clouds cast an eerie white glow after dusk, beyond a local field near Potsdam, Germany. Although noctilucent clouds are thought to be composed of small ice-coated particles, much remains unknown about them. Satellites launched to help study these clouds include Sweden's Odin and NASA's AIM. Recent evidence indicates that at least some noctilucent clouds result from freezing water exhaust from Space Shuttles.

Tomorrow's picture: eruption from planet Earth

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