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.

2016 March 16
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A Phoenix Aurora over Iceland
Image Credit & Copyright: Hallgrimur P. Helgason; Rollover Annotation: Judy Schmidt

Explanation: All of the other aurora watchers had gone home. By 3:30 am in Iceland, on a quiet night last September, much of that night's auroras had died down. Suddenly though, a new burst of particles streamed down from space, lighting up the Earth's atmosphere once again. This time, unexpectedly, pareidoliacally, they created an amazing shape reminiscent of a giant phoenix. With camera equipment at the ready, two quick sky images were taken, followed immediately by a third of the land. The mountain in the background is Helgafell, while the small foreground river is called Kaldá, both located about 30 kilometers north of Iceland's capital Reykjavik. Seasoned skywatchers will note that just above the mountain, toward the left, is the constellation of Orion, while the Pleiades star cluster is also visible just above the frame center. The new aurora lasted only a minute and would be gone forever -- possibly dismissed as an embellished aberration -- were it not captured in the featured, digitally-composed, image mosaic.

Tomorrow's picture: close comet

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