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.

December 30, 1996
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X-Ray Earth
Credit: Polar, PIXIE, NASA

Explanation: The Earth glows in many kinds of light, including the energetic X-ray band. Actually, the Earth itself does not glow - only aurora produced high in the Earth's atmosphere. Above is the first picture of the Earth in X-rays, taken in March with the orbiting Polar satellite. Bright X-ray emission is shown in red. Energetic ions from the Sun cause aurora and energize electrons in the Earth's magnetosphere. These electrons move along the Earth's magnetic field and eventually strike the Earth's ionosphere, causing the X-ray emission. These X-rays are not dangerous because they are absorbed by lower parts of the Earth's atmosphere.

Tomorrow's picture: Io Rotating

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.