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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Search Results for "aurora"




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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 May 3 - Aurora over Sweden
Explanation: It was bright and green and stretched across the sky. This striking aurora display was captured last month just outside of Östersund, Sweden. Six photographic fields were merged to create the featured panorama spanning almost 180 degrees. Particularly striking aspects of this aurora include its sweeping arc-like shape and its stark definition. Lake Storsjön is seen in the foreground, while several familiar constellations and the star Polaris are visible through the aurora, far in the background. Coincidently, the aurora appears to avoid the Moon visible on the lower left. The aurora appeared a day after a large hole opened in the Sun's corona allowing particularly energetic particles to flow out into the Solar System. The green color of the aurora is caused by oxygen atoms recombining with ambient electrons high in the Earth's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 8 - Lapland Northern Lights
Explanation: Early spring in the northern hemisphere is good season for aurora hunters. Near an equinox Earth's magnetic field is oriented to favor interactions with the solar wind that trigger the alluring glow of the northern lights. On March 28/29 the skies over Kaunispää Hill, Lapland, Finland did not disappoint. That night's expansive auroral curtains are captured in this striking panoramic view that covers a full 360 degrees. Local skywatchers were mesmerized by bright displays lasted throughout the dark hours, shimmering with colors easily visible to the naked eye.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 6 - Auroras and the Magnetosphere of Jupiter
Explanation: Jupiter has auroras. Like near the Earth, the magnetic field of our Solar System's largest planet compresses when impacted by a gust of charged particles from the Sun. This magnetic compression funnels charged particles towards Jupiter's poles and down into the atmosphere. There, electrons are temporarily excited or knocked away from atmospheric gases, after which, when de-exciting or recombining with atmospheric ions, auroral light is emitted. The featured illustration portrays the magnificent magnetosphere around Jupiter in action. In the inset image released last month, the Earth-orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory shows unexpectedly powerful X-ray light emitted by Jovian auroras, depicted in false-colored purple. That Chandra inset is superposed over an optical image taken at a different time by the Hubble Space Telescope. This aurora on Jupiter was seen in October 2011, several days after the Sun emitted a powerful Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 4 - Lucid Dreaming
Explanation: Is this the real world? Or is it just fantasy? The truth started with a dream -- a dream that the spectacular Seljarlandsfoss waterfall in southern Iceland could be photographed with a backdrop of an aurora-filled sky. Soon after a promising space weather report, the visionary astrophotographer and his partner sprang into action. After arriving, capturing an image of the background sky, complete with a cool green aurora, turned out to be the easy part. The hard part was capturing the waterfall itself, for one reason because mist kept fogging the lens! Easy come, easy go -- it took about 100 times where someone had to go back to the camera -- on a cold night and over slippery rocks -- to see how the last exposure turned out, wipe the lens, and reset the camera for the next try. Later, the best images of land and sky were digitally combined. Visible in the sky, even well behind the aurora, are numerous stars of the northern sky. The resulting title -- given by the astrophotographer -- was influenced by a dream-like quality of the resulting image, possibly combined with the knowledge that some things really mattered in this effort to make a dream come true.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 16 - A Phoenix Aurora over Iceland
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.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 January 3 - A Starry Night of Iceland
Explanation: On some nights, the sky is the best show in town. On this night, the sky was not only the best show in town, but a composite image of the sky won an international competition for landscape astrophotography. The featured winning image was taken in 2011 over Jökulsárlón, the largest glacial lake in Iceland. The photographer combined six exposures to capture not only two green auroral rings, but their reflections off the serene lake. Visible in the distant background sky is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. A powerful coronal mass ejection from the Sun caused auroras to be seen as far south as Wisconsin, USA. Solar activity over the past week has resulted in auroras just over the past few days.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 January 2 - Sky Lights in the New Year
Explanation: Triggered by the impact of a coronal mass ejection on New Year's eve, a moderate geomagnetic storm brought a celebration of sky lights to planet Earth's high latitudes yesterday. In this New Year's nightscape, the shimmering reddish curtains of aurora australis along a southern horizon are captured over Morgiana, SW Victoria, Australia. Of course, more permanent jewels of the southern skies are on the scene. The southern Milky Way, Alpha and Beta Centauri, and bright stars of the Southern Cross are on the left. In silhouette, branches of the large foreground tree stretch across the Milky Way's satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic clouds. The bright star framed near the tips of tree branches at right is Achernar. Alpha star of the constellation Eridanus, Achernar is sometimes known as the southern end of the river.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 December 8 - Icelandic Legends and Aurora
Explanation: Legends collide in this dramatic vista of land, sea, and sky. The land is Iceland, specifically Vík í Mýrdal, a southern village known for its beautiful black sand beaches. The sea, the Atlantic Ocean, surrounds Reynisdrangar, a sea stack of eroded basaltic rock pillars that Icelandic folklore tells are the petrified remains of trolls once attempting to drag a three-masted ship onto land. Watching from overhead and shining bright on the upper right is the god of the sky, according to Greek mythology: the planet Jupiter. Also visible in the sky are several other Greek legends encapsulated as constellations, including a lion (Leo), a big bear (Ursa Major), and a water snake (Hydra). One might guess that all of this commotion caused the spectacular aurora pictured -- but really it was just explosions from the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 24 - Aurora over Clouds
Explanation: Auroras usually occur high above the clouds. The auroral glow is created when fast-moving particles ejected from the Sun impact the Earth's magnetosphere, from which charged particles spiral along the Earth's magnetic field to strike atoms and molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. An oxygen atom, for example, will glow in the green light commonly emitted by an aurora after being energized by such a collision. The lowest part of an aurora will typically occur at 100 kilometers up, while most clouds usually exist only below about 10 kilometers. The relative heights of clouds and auroras are shown clearly in the featured picture from Dyrholaey, Iceland. There, a determined astrophotographer withstood high winds and initially overcast skies in an attempt to capture aurora over a picturesque lighthouse, only to take, by chance, the featured picture along the way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 September 15 - A Spiral Aurora over Iceland
Explanation: What's happened to the sky? Aurora! Captured late last month, this aurora was noted by Icelanders for its great brightness and quick development. The aurora resulted from a solar storm, with high energy particles bursting out from the Sun and through a crack in Earth's protective magnetosphere a few days later. Although a spiral pattern can be discerned, creative humans might imagine the complex glow as an atmospheric apparition of any number of common icons. In the foreground of the featured image is the Ölfusá River, while the lights illuminate a bridge in Selfoss City. Just beyond the low clouds is a nearly full Moon. The liveliness of the Sun -- and the resulting auroras on Earth -- is slowly diminishing as the Sun emerges from a Solar maximum of surface activity and evolves towards a historically more quite period in its 11-year cycle. In fact, solar astronomers are waiting to see if the coming Solar minimum will be as unusually quiet as the last one, where sometimes months would go by with no discernible sunspots or other active solar phenomena.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 3 - A Proton Arc Over Lake Superior
Explanation: The setting had been picked out -- all that was needed was an aurora. And late last August, forecasts predicted that an otherwise beautiful night sky would be lit up with auroral green. Jumping into his truck, the astrophotographer approached his secret site -- but only after a five hour drive across the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan. What he didn't know was that his luck was just beginning. While setting up for the image, a proton arc -- a rare type of aurora -- appeared. The red arc lasted only about 15 minutes, but that was long enough to capture in a 30-second exposure. As the name indicates, proton arcs are caused not by electrons but by more massive protons that bombard the Earth's atmosphere following an energetic event on the Sun. In the featured image, the yellow lights on the horizon are the city lights of Marquette, Michigan, USA. The blue and yellow rocks in the Lake Superior foreground are lit by a LED flashlight. Also captured, to the left of the red proton arc, was the band of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 July 27 - Milky Way and Aurora over Antarctica
Explanation: It has been one of the better skies of this long night. In parts of Antarctica, not only is it winter, but the Sun can spend weeks below the horizon. At China's Zhongshan Station, people sometimes venture out into the cold to photograph a spectacular night sky. The featured image from one such outing was taken in mid-July, just before the end of this polar night. Pointing up, the wide angle lens captured not only the ground at the bottom, but at the top as well. In the foreground is a colleague also taking pictures. In the distance, a spherical satellite receiver and several windmills are visible. Numerous stars dot the night sky, including Sirius and Canopus. Far in the background, stretching overhead from horizon to horizon, is the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Even further in the distance, visible as extended smudges near the top, are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies near our huge Milky Way Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 July 4 - Aurora Australis
Explanation: Not fireworks, these intense shimmering lights still danced across Earth's night skies late last month, seen here above the planet's geographic south pole. The stunning auroral displays were triggered as a coronal mass ejection blasted from the Sun days earlier impacted the magnetosphere, beginning a widespread geomagnetic storm. The six fisheye panels were recorded with digital camera and battery in a heated box to guard against -90 degree F ambient temperatures of the long winter night. Around the horizon are south pole astronomical observatories, while beyond the Aurora Australis stretch the stars of the southern Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 27 - Stars of a Summer Triangle
Explanation: Rising at the start of a northern summer's night, these three bright stars form the familiar asterism known as the Summer Triangle. Altair, Deneb, and Vega are the alpha stars of their respective constellations, Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra, nestled near the Milky Way. Close in apparent brightness the three do look similar in these telescopic portraits, but all have their own stellar stories. Their similar appearance hides the fact that the Summer Triangle stars actually span a large range in intrinsic luminosity and distance. A main sequence dwarf star, Altair is some 10 times brighter than the Sun and 17 light-years away, while Vega, also a hydrogen-fusing dwarf, is around 30 times brighter than the Sun and lies 25 light-years away. Supergiant Deneb, at about 54,000 times the solar luminosity, lies some 1,400 light-years distant. Of course, with a whitish blue hue, the stars of the Summer Triangle are all hotter than the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 26 - Planet Aurora
Explanation: What bizarre alien planet is this ? It's planet Earth of course, seen through the shimmering glow of aurorae from the International Space Station. About 400 kilometers (250 miles) above, the orbiting station is itself within the upper realm of the auroral displays, also watched from the planet's surface on June 23rd. Aurorae have the signature colors of excited molecules and atoms at the low densities found at extreme altitudes. The eerie greenish glow of molecular oxygen dominates this view. But higher, just above the space station's horizon, is a rarer red band of aurora from atomic oxygen. The ongoing geomagnetic storm began after a coronal mass ejection's recent impact on Earth's magnetosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 1 - Pulsating Aurora over Iceland
Explanation: Why do some auroras pulsate? No one is sure. Although this unusual behavior has been known for a long time, the cause remains an active topic of research. Featured here is a dramatic video that captured some impressive pulsating auroras in mid-March over Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland. The 48-second video shown is not time-lapse. The real-time pulsations are exemplified by sequences where the astrophotographer is visible moving about in the foreground. A close inspection of the enigmatic flickering sky colors reveals that some structures appear to repeat, while others do not. The quick rapidity of the pulsations seen here is somewhat unusual -- more common are aurora with pulsations that last several seconds. Recent research shows that pulsations are more common in electron-generated aurora, rather than proton aurora, and that the Earth's local magnetic field may fluctuate in unison.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 May 4 - An Unexpected Aurora over Norway
Explanation: Sometimes the sky lights up unexpectedly. A trip to northern Norway to photograph auroras was not going as well as hoped. It was now past midnight in Steinsvik, Troms, in northern Norway, and the date was 2014 February 8. Despite recent activity on the Sun, the skies were disappointing. Therefore, the astrophotographer began packing up to go. His brother began searching for a missing lens cap. When the sky suddenly exploded with spectacular aurora. Reacting quickly, a sequence detailing dramatic green curtains was captured, with the bright Moon near the image center, and the lens-cap seeking brother on the far right. The auroral flare lasted only a few minutes, but the memory of this event, the photographer speculates, will last much longer.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 30 - A Flag Shaped Aurora over Sweden
Explanation: It appeared, momentarily, like a 50-km tall banded flag. In mid-March, an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection directed toward a clear magnetic channel to Earth led to one of the more intense geomagnetic storms of recent years. A visual result was wide spread auroras being seen over many countries near Earth's magnetic poles. Captured over Kiruna, Sweden, the image features an unusually straight auroral curtain with the green color emitted low in the Earth's atmosphere, and red many kilometers higher up. It is unclear where the rare purple aurora originates, but it might involve an unusual blue aurora at an even lower altitude than the green, seen superposed with a much higher red. As the Sun continues near its top level of surface activity, colorful nights of auroras over Earth are likely to continue.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 19 - Aurora in the Backyard
Explanation: On the night of March 17/18 this umbrella of northern lights unfolded over backyards in Vallentuna, Sweden about 30 kilometers north of Stockholm. A result of the strongest geomagnetic storm of this solar cycle, auroral displays were captured on that night from back and front yards at even lower latitudes, including sightings in the midwestern United States. A boon for aurora hunting skywatchers, the space storm began building when a coronal mass ejection, launched by solar activity some two days earlier, struck planet Earth's magnetosphere. So what's the name of the backyard observatory on the right of the wide field view? That's Carpe Noctem Observatory, of course.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 10 - Aurora over Icelandic Glacier
Explanation: Several key conditions came together to create this award-winning shot. These included a dark night, few clouds, an epic auroral display, and a body of water that was both calm enough and unfrozen enough to show reflected stars. The featured skyscape of activity and serenity appeared over Iceland's Vatnajökull Glacier a year ago January, with the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon captured in the foreground. Aurora filled skies continue to be common near Earth's poles as our Sun, near Solar Maximum, continues to expel energetic clouds of plasma into the Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 24 - Unusual Plumes Above Mars
Explanation: What is creating unusual plumes on Mars? No one is sure. Noted and confirmed by a global contingent of amateur astronomers on photos of the red planet in March 2012, possibly similar plumes have now been found on archived images as far back as 1997. Since the plumes reach 200 kilometers up, they seem too high to be related to wind-blown surface dust. Since one plume lasted for eleven days, it seemed too long lasting to be related to aurora. Amateur astronomers will surely continue to monitor the terminator and edge regions of Mars for new high plumes, and the armada of satellites orbiting Mars may be called upon to verify and study any newly reported plume that become visible. The featured 35-minute time-lapse animation was taken on 2012 March 20 by the plume's discoverer -- an attorney from Pennsylvania, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 13 - Aurora on Ice
Explanation: Not from a snowglobe, this expansive fisheye view of ice and sky was captured on February 1, from Jökulsárlón Beach, southeast Iceland, planet Earth. Chunks of glacial ice on the black sand beach glisten in the light of a nearly full moon surrounded by a shining halo. The 22 degree lunar halo itself is created by ice crystals in high, thin clouds refracting the moonlight. Despite the bright moonlight, curtains of aurora still dance through the surreal scene. In early February, their activity was triggered by Earth's restless magnetosphere and the energetic wind from a coronal hole near the Sun's south pole. Bright Jupiter, also near opposition, is visible at the left, beyond the icy lunar halo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 7 - An Aurora of Marbles
Explanation: It looks like a fine collection of aggies. But this grid of embedded swirls and streaks actually follows the dramatic development of planet Earth's auroral substorms. The sequence of over 600 horizon-to-horizon fisheye images was taken over a 2 hour period near the artic circle in March of 2012 from Lapland, northern Sweden. It begins at upper left in evening twilight and ends at lower right, covering two activity peaks with bright coronae forming overhead. While exploring space between Earth and Moon, NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft discovered that these explosions of auroral activity are driven by sudden releases of energy in the Earth's magnetosphere. Even if you're not playing for keepsies, you can follow this link to check out the sequence in a full timelapse video (vimeo).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 4 - Stars, Sprites, Clouds, Auroras
Explanation: What are those red streaks in the sky? While photographing unexpected auroras over a distant thunderstorm, something extraordinary happened: red sprites. This brief instance of rarely imaged high-altitude lightning flashed so bright that it was witnessed by several people independently. Pictured over Minnesota, USA in May 2013, these red sprites likely followed an extremely powerful low-altitude conventional lightning bolt. Captured in the featured frame are a house and electrical pole in the foreground, thick clouds in the lower atmosphere, a lightning storm on the horizon, distant red sprites and green aurora in the upper atmosphere, and distant stars from our local neighborhood of the Milky Way Galaxy. The spectacular image is thought to be only the second known case of sprites and auroras photographed together, and possibly the first in true color.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 January 30 - A Night at Poker Flat
Explanation: Four NASA suborbital sounding rockets leapt into the night on January 26, from the University of Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range. This time lapse composite image follows all four launches of the small, multi-stage rockets to explore winter's mesmerizing, aurora-filled skies. During the exposures, stars trailed around the North Celestial Pole, high above the horizon at the site 30 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska. Lidar, beams of pulsed green lasers, also left traces through the scene. Operating successfully, the payloads lofted were two Mesosphere-Lower Thermosphere Turbulence Experiments (M-TeX) and two Mesospheric Inversion-layer Stratified Turbulence (MIST) experiments, creating vapor trails at high altitudes to be tracked by ground-based observations.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 December 7 - Aurora Shimmer Meteor Flash
Explanation: Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, haunted skies over the island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø Norway on 2009 December 13. This 30 second long exposure records their shimmering glow gently lighting the wintery coastal scene. A study in contrasts, it also captures the sudden flash of a fireball meteor from the excellent Geminid meteor shower in 2009 December. Streaking past familiar stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, the trail points back toward the constellation Gemini, off the top of the view. Both aurora and meteors occur in Earth's upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, but aurora caused by energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere, while meteors are trails of cosmic dust. Toward the end of this week the 2014 Geminids meteor shower will peak, although they will compete with the din of last quarter moonlight.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 3 - In Green Company: Aurora over Norway
Explanation: Raise your arms if you see an aurora. With those instructions, two nights went by with, well, clouds -- mostly. On the third night of returning to same peaks, though, the sky not only cleared up but lit up with a spectacular auroral display. Arms went high in the air, patience and experience paid off, and the amazing featured image was captured. The setting is a summit of the Austnesfjorden fjord close to the town of Svolvear on the Lofoten islands in northern Norway. The time was early March. Our Sun has been producing an abundance of picturesque aurora of late as it is near the time of its maximum surface activity in its 11-year magnetic cycle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 14 - Auroral Corona over Norway
Explanation: Higher than the highest mountain lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking atoms and molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Somewhat uncommon, an auroral corona appears as a center point for a surrounding display and may occur when an aurora develops directly overhead, or when auroral rays are pointed nearly toward the observer. This picturesque but brief green and purple aurora exhibition occurred last month high above Kvaløya, Tromsø, Norway. The Sessøyfjorden fjord runs through the foreground, while numerous stars are visible far in the distance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 3 - Aurora and Milky Way in a Little Sky
Explanation: Stepping stones seem to lead to the Milky Way as it stretches across this little sky. Of course, the scene is really the northern hemisphere's autumnal equinox night. Water and sky are inverted by a top to bottom, around the horizon stereographic projection centered on the zenith above Lake Storsjön in Jämtland, Sweden. In the north the Milky Way arcs from east to west overhead as fall begins, but the season is also a good time for viewing aurora. Geomagnetic storms increase in frequency near the equinox and produce remarkable displays of northern lights at high latitudes, like the eerie greenish glow reflected in this watery cosmos.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 September 23 - Aurora and Volcanic Light Pillar
Explanation: That's no sunset. And that thin red line just above it -- that's not a sun pillar. The red glow on the horizon originates from a volcanic eruption, and the red line is the eruption's reflection from fluttering atmospheric ice crystals. This unusual volcanic light pillar was captured over Iceland earlier this month. The featured scene looks north from Jökulsárlón toward the erupting volcano Bárðarbunga in the Holuhraun lava field. Even the foreground sky is picturesque, with textured grey clouds in the lower atmosphere, shimmering green aurora in the upper atmosphere, and bright stars far in the distance. Although the last eruption from Holuhraun was in 1797, the present volcanic activity continues.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 September 17 - Aurora over Maine
Explanation: It has been a good week for auroras. Earlier this month active sunspot region 2158 rotated into view and unleashed a series of flares and plasma ejections into the Solar System during its journey across the Sun's disk. In particular, a pair of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) impacted the Earth's magnetosphere toward the end of last week, creating the most intense geomagnetic storm so far this year. Although power outages were feared by some, the most dramatic effects of these impacting plasma clouds were auroras seen as far south as Wisconsin, USA. In the featured image taken last Friday night, rays and sheets of multicolored auroras were captured over Acadia National Park, in Maine, USA. Since another CME plasma cloud is currently approaching the Earth, tonight offers another good chance to see an impressive auroral display.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 September 9 - An Aurora Cupcake with a Milky Way Topping
Explanation: This sky looked delicious. Double auroral ovals were captured above the town lights of Östersund, Sweden, last week. Pictured above, the green ovals occurred lower to the ground than violet aurora rays above, making the whole display look a bit like a cupcake. To top it off, far in the distance, the central band or our Milky Way Galaxy slants down from the upper left. The auroras were caused by our Sun ejecting plasma clouds into the Solar System just a few days before, ionized particles that subsequently impacted the magnetosphere of the Earth. Aurora displays may continue this week as an active sunspot group rotated into view just a few days ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 July 22 - Cave with Aurora Skylight
Explanation: Yes, but have you ever seen aurora from a cave? To capture this fascinating juxtaposition between below and above, astrophotographer Bjargmundsson spent much of a night alone in the kilometer-long Raufarhólshellir lava cave in Iceland during late March. There, he took separate images of three parts of the cave using a strobe for illumination. He also took a deep image of the sky to capture faint aurora, and digitally combined the four images later. The 4600-year old lava tube has several skylights under which stone rubble and snow have accumulated. Oh -- the person standing on each mound -- it's the artist.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 June 22 - Persistent Saturnian Auroras
Explanation: Are Saturn's auroras like Earth's? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn's South Pole simultaneously as Cassini closed in on the gas giant in January 2004. Hubble snapped images in ultraviolet light, while Cassini recorded radio emissions and monitored the solar wind. Like on Earth, Saturn's auroras make total or partial rings around magnetic poles. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn's auroras persist for days, as opposed to only minutes on Earth. Although surely created by charged particles entering the atmosphere, Saturn's auroras also appear to be more closely modulated by the solar wind than either Earth's or Jupiter's auroras. The above sequence shows three Hubble images of Saturn each taken two days apart.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 May 31 - Satellite Station and Southern Skies
Explanation: This clear night skyscape captures the colorful glow of aurora australis, the southern lights, just outside the port city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, planet Earth. As if staring into the dreamlike scene, the Tasmanian Earth Resources Satellite Station poses in the center, illuminated by nearby city lights. Used to receive data from spacebased Earth observing instruments, including NASA's MODIS and SeaWiFS, the station was decommissioned in 2011 and dismantled only recently, shortly after the picture was taken on April 30. Still shining in southern skies though, the central bulge of our Milky Way galaxy and two bright satellite galaxies the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds appear in the frame. The Small Magellanic Cloud shines through the fainter red auroral band.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 30 - A Partially Eclipsed Setting Sun
Explanation: If you look closely, you will see something quite unusual about this setting Sun. There are birds flying to the Sun's left, but that's not so unusual. A dark sea covers the Sun's bottom, and dark clouds cover parts of the middle, but they are also not very unusual. More unusual is the occulted piece at the top right. And that's no occulting cloud -- that's the Moon. Yesterday the Moon moved in front of part of the Sun as visible from Australia, and although many locations reported annoying clouds, a partially eclipsed Sun would occasionally peek through as it set. The above image was captured yesterday on the western horizon of Adelaide, South Australia. The maximum eclipse was visible only from a small part of Antarctica where the entire Moon could be seen covering the entire center of the Sun in what is known as an annular eclipse, leaving only a ring of fire from the Sun peeking out around the edges. The next solar eclipse will be another partial eclipse, will occur on 2014 October 23, and will be visible from most of North America near sunset.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 29 - Aurora Dog over Alaska
Explanation: Sometimes it is hard to believe what you see in the sky. While leading his annual aurora tour last month near Fairbanks in central Alaska, astrophotographer John Chumack and his company saw a most unusual aurora. This bright aurora appeared to change into the shape of a jumping dog, complete with a curly tail. He was able to capture the fleeting natural apparition in the above image with a 15-second exposure through a wide-angle lens. By coincidence, he also captured a background sky filled with familiar highlights. Planets visible include bright Jupiter through the dog's front legs and reddish Mars below the dog's hind legs. Stars visible include the Big Dipper stars above the dog's midsection and reddish Betelgeuse shining on the far right. This dog would not be following him home, however, and within a few minutes morphed into other shapes before the geomagnetic storm particles that created it shifted to strike the Earth elsewhere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 24 - Orion and Aurora over Iceland
Explanation: If you see a sky like this -- photograph it. A month ago in Iceland, an adventurous photographer chanced across a sky full of aurora and did just that. In the foreground lies the stratovolcano Öræfajökull. In the background, among other sky delights, lies the constellation of Orion, visible to the aurora's left. Auroras are sparked by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the magnetic environment around the Earth. Resultant energetic particles such as electrons and protons rain down near the Earth's poles and impact the air. The impacted air molecules obtain excited electrons, and when electrons in oxygen molecules fall back to their ground state, they emit green light. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 February 26 - Aurora over New Zealand
Explanation: Sometimes the more you look at an image, the more you see. Such may be the case for this beautiful nighttime panorama taken last week in New Zealand. Visible right off, on the far left, are common clouds, slightly altered by the digital fusion of combining 11 separate 20-second exposures. More striking, perhaps, is the broad pink aurora that dominates the right part of the image, a less common auroral color that is likely tinted by excited oxygen atoms high in Earth's atmosphere. Keep looking and you might notice a bright light just beyond the mountain on the left. That is the rising Moon -- and an even closer look will reveal faint crepuscular rays emanating from it. Musing over the image center may cause you to notice the central band of the Milky Way Galaxy which here appears to divide, almost vertically, the left clouds from the right aurora. Inspecting the upper right of the image reveals a fuzzy patch, high in the sky, that is the Small Magellanic Cloud. Numerous stars discretely populate the distant background. Back on Earth, the image foreground features two domes of the Mt. John University Observatory and a camera tripod looking to capture much of this scene over a serene Lake Tekapo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 February 6 - The Terraced Night
Explanation: Long after sunset on January 25 an unusually intense red airglow floods this south-looking skyscape. The scene was recorded with a long exposure using a digital camera over Yunnan Province in southwest China. At best faintly visible to the eye, the lingering airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light through chemical excitation. Originating at an altitude similar to aurora, it can found around the globe. The chemical energy is initially provided by the Sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation On this night, despite the luminous atmosphere, the band of the Milky Way clearly stretches above the horizon with bright star Sirius near the top of the frame. Both airglow and starry sky are beautifully reflected in region's watery Yuanyang rice terraces below.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 January 8 - Sunspot at Sunset
Explanation: Sunsets may be the most watched celestial event, but lately sunsets have even offered something extra. A sunspot so large it was visible to the naked eye is captured in Swiss skies in this sunset scene from January 5, crossing left to right near the center of a solar disk dimmed and distorted by Earth's dense atmosphere. Detailed views reveal a large solar active region composed of sunspots, some larger than planet Earth itself. Cataloged as active region AR 1944, on January 7 it produced a substantial solar flare and a coronal mass ejection (CME) forecast to reach Earth. The CME could trigger geomagnetic storms and aurora on January 9.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 December 28 - Alaska Aurora Sequence
Explanation: A remarkably intense auroral band flooded the northern night with shimmering colors on December 7. The stunning sequence captured here was made with a camera fixed to a tripod under cold, clear skies near Ester, just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Left to right, spanning a period of about 30 minutes, the panels follow changes in the dancing curtains of northern lights extending to altitudes of over 100 kilometers in a band arcing directly overhead. The panels span 150 degrees vertically, covering about 500 kilometers of aurora laying across the sky from edge to edge. The auroral activity was triggered by a moderate level geomagnetic storm, as a high speed solar wind stream buffeted planet Earth's magnetosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 December 18 - Light Pillars over Finland
Explanation: What's happening behind those houses? Pictured above are not aurora but nearby light pillars, a local phenomenon that can appear as a distant one. In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up from the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns not unlike a Sun-pillar. While going out to buy cat food, a quick thinking photographer captured the above light pillars extending up from bright parking lot lights in Oulu, Finland.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 18 - Aurora and Unusual Clouds Over Iceland
Explanation: What's happening in the sky? On this cold winter night in Iceland, quite a lot. First, in the foreground, lies the largest glacier in Iceland: Vatnajokull. On the far left, bright green auroras appear to emanate from the glacier as if it was a volcano. Aurora light is reflected by the foreground lake Jökulsárlón. On the far right is a long and unusual lenticular cloud tinged with green light emitted from another aurora well behind it. Just above this lenticular cloud are unusual iridescent lenticular clouds displaying a broad spectral range of colors. Far beyond the lenticular is the setting Moon, while far beyond even the Moon are setting stars. The above image was captured in late March of 2012.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 6 - Creature Aurora Over Norway
Explanation: It was Halloween and the sky looked like a creature. Exactly which creature, the astrophotographer was unsure (but possibly you can suggest one). Exactly what caused the eerie apparition was sure: one of the best auroral displays in recent memory. This spectacular aurora had an unusually high degree of detail. Pictured above, the vivid green and purple auroral colors are caused by high atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen reacting to a burst of incoming electrons. Birch trees in Tromsø, Norway formed an also eerie foreground. Many other photogenic auroras have been triggered by recent energetic flares on the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 31 - Night on a Spooky Planet
Explanation: What spooky planet is this? Planet Earth of course, on the dark and stormy night of September 12 at Hverir, a geothermally active area along the volcanic landscape in northeastern Iceland. Geomagnetic storms produced the auroral display in the starry night sky while ghostly towers of steam and gas venting from fumaroles danced against the eerie greenish light. Tonight, there is still a chance for geomagnetic storms triggered by recent solar activity, so high-latitude skygazers should beware. And ghostly shapes may dance in your neighborhood, too. Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 5 - October Aurora in Prairie Skies
Explanation: Wind and spaceweather are transformed in this haunting night skyscape. The prairie windmill and colorful auroral display were captured on October 1, from central South Dakota, USA, as a good season for aurora hunters came with longer autumn nights. From green to rarer reddish hues, the northern lights are sparked by the geomagnetic storms caused by solar activity. These extend far above the cloud bank to altitudes well over 100 kilometers, against the backdrop of distant stars in the northern night. Visual double star Mizar, marking the middle of the Big Dipper's handle, is easy to spot at the left edge of the frame. The dipper's North Celestial Pole pointers Merak and Dubhe line up vertically near picture center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 September 30 - Mysterious Green Patches on the Sky
Explanation: What is it? Some surely natural phenomenon has appeared in a video that, so far, has defied clear identification. The above time-lapse video was made to record Perseid meteors above Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick, Canada late this summer. The video, which ran from 9:30 pm August 11 to 3:00 am the next morning, records several meteor and satellite streaks beyond a picturesque background. Each image records a 30 second exposure. At about 25 seconds into the video, however, an unusual patchy green glow appears to cover the sky. Possible explanations include airglow, aurora, lighting from an artificial or natural source, or something completely different. This APOD is an attempt not only to solve this intriguing sky riddle, but to measure how powerful the APOD readership is as a citizen-science, collective-intelligence engine. If you have insight into what might be causing this phenomenon, please contribute to the discussion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 19 - Noctilucent Clouds and Aurora Over Scotland
Explanation: Why would the sky still glow after sunset? Besides stars and the band of our Milky Way galaxy, the sky might glow because it contains either noctilucent clouds or aurora. Rare individually, both are visible in the above time lapse movie taken over Caithness, Scotland, UK taken during a single night earlier this month. First noted in 1885, many noctilucent clouds are known to correlate with atmospheric meteor trails, although details and the origins of others remain a topic of research. These meandering bright filaments of sunlight-reflecting ice crystals are the highest clouds in the Earth's atmosphere. The above video captures not only a variety of noctilucent clouds, but also how their structure varies over minutes. Lower clouds typically appear dark or fast moving. About halfway through the video the clouds are joined by aurora. At times, low clouds, noctilucent clouds, and aurora are all visible simultaneously, each doing their own separate dance, and once -- see if you can find it -- even with the Big Dipper rotating across the background.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 7 - Meteors and Aurorae over Iceland
Explanation: What's going on behind that mountain? Quite a bit. First of all, the mountain itself, named Kirkjufell, is quite old and located in western Iceland near the town of Grundarfjörður. In front of the steeply-sloped structure lies a fjord that had just begun to freeze when the above image was taken -- in mid-December of 2012. Although quite faint to the unaided eye, the beautiful colors of background aurorae became quite apparent on the 25-second exposure. What makes this image is of particular note, though, is that it also captures streaks from the Geminids meteor shower -- meteors that might not have been evident were the aurora much brighter. Far in the distance, on the left, is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy, while stars from our local part of the Milky Way appear spread across the background. This weekend the Perseids meteor shower will peak and may well provide sky enthusiasts with their own memorable visual experiences.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 10 - Large Sunspots Now Crossing the Sun
Explanation: One of the largest sunspot regions in recent years is now crossing the Sun. This region of convoluted magnetic fields may well produce a solar flare that releases a cloud of energetic particles into the Solar System. Were a very powerful cloud to impact the Earth's magnetosphere, it could be dangerous to Earth-orbiting astronauts and satellites. Conversely, the impact of even a less energetic cloud might create picturesque aurora. Pictured above is the sunspot region as it appeared two days ago. The rightmost part of this region has been cataloged as AR 11785, while the left part as AR 11787. The darkest sunspot regions contain nearly vertical magnetic fields and are called umbras, while the surrounding bronze regions -- more clearly showing stringy magnetic flux tubes -- are called penumbras. Churning solar granules, many about 1000 km across, compose the yellow background region. No one knows what this sunspot region will do, but space weather researchers are monitoring it closely.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 June 9 - Flowing Auroras Over Norway
Explanation: Have you ever seen an aurora? Auroras are occurring again with increasing frequency. With the Sun peaking at its eleven year maximum in aurora-triggering activity, it is exhibiting a greater abundance of sunspots, flares, and coronal mass ejections. Solar activity like this typically expels charged particles into the Solar System, some of which impact Earth's magnetosphere and trigger Earthly auroras. In late 2010, the above timelapse displays of picturesque auroras were captured above Tromsø, Norway. Curtains of auroral light, usually green, flow, shimmer and dance as energetic particles fall toward the Earth and excite atoms of air high up in the Earth's atmosphere. There may even be opportunities to see auroras tonight, as recent solar explosions have triggered numerous aurora sightings over the past few days.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 22 - Red Sprite Lightning with Aurora
Explanation: What's that in the sky? It is a rarely seen form of lightning confirmed only about 25 years ago: a red sprite. Recent research has shown that following a powerful positive cloud-to-ground lightning strike, red sprites may start as 100-meter balls of ionized air that shoot down from about 80-km high at 10 percent the speed of light and are quickly followed by a group of upward streaking ionized balls. The above image, taken a few days ago above central South Dakota, USA, captured a bright red sprite, and is a candidate for the first color image ever recorded of a sprite and aurora together. Distant storm clouds cross the bottom of the image, while streaks of colorful aurora are visible in the background. Red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 February 12 - Reflected Aurora Over Alaska
Explanation: Some auroras can only be seen with a camera. They are called subvisual and are too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. In the above image, the green aurora were easily visible to the eye, but the red aurora only became apparent after a 20-second camera exposure. The reason is that the human eye only accumulates light for a fraction of a second at a time, while a camera shutter can be left open much longer. When photographing an already picturesque scene near Anchorage, Alaska, USA, last autumn, a camera caught both the visual green and subvisual red aurora reflected in a lily pad-covered lake. High above, thousands of stars were visible including the Pleiades star cluster, while the planet Jupiter posed near the horizon, just above clouds, toward the image right. Auroras are caused by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the Earth's magnetosphere, causing electrons and protons to rain down near the Earth's poles and impact the air. Both red and green aurora are typically created by excited oxygen atoms, with red emission, when visible, dominating higher up. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 17 - Aurora Over White Dome Geyser
Explanation: Sometimes both heaven and Earth erupt. Colorful aurorae erupted unexpectedly earlier this month, with green aurora appearing near the horizon and brilliant bands of red aurora blooming high overhead. A bright Moon lit the foreground of this picturesque scene, while familiar stars could be seen far in the distance. With planning, the careful astrophotographer shot this image mosaic in the field of White Dome Geyser in Yellowstone National Park in the western USA. Sure enough, just after midnight, White Dome erupted -- spraying a stream of water and vapor many meters into the air. Geyser water is heated to steam by scalding magma several kilometers below, and rises through rock cracks to the surface. About half of all known geysers occur in Yellowstone National Park. Although the geomagnetic storm that created these aurorae has since subsided, eruptions of White Dome Geyser continue about every 30 minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 11 - Aurorae over Planet Earth
Explanation: North America at night is easy to recognize in this view of our fair planet from orbit, acquired by the Suomi-NPP satellite on October 8. The spectacular waves of visible light emission rolling above the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario in the upper half of the frame are the Aurora Borealis or northern lights. Encircling the poles and extending to lower latitudes, impressive aurorae seen during the past few days are due to strong geomagnetic storms. The storms were triggered by a solar coronal mass ejection on October 4/5, impacting Earth's magnetosphere some three days later. The curtains of light, shining well over 100 kilometers above the surface, are formed as charged particles accelerated in the magnetosphere excite oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 5 - Aurora and Fireball Over Norway
Explanation: What's happening behind that mountain? A convergence of variable sky spectacles. One night in mid-September near Tromsø, Norway, high red aurora could be seen shimmering through lower green aurora in a way that created a striking and somewhat unusual violet glow. Suddenly, though, the sky flashed with the brightest fireball the astrophotographer had ever seen, as a small pebble from outer space violently crashed into the Earth's atmosphere. The glow illuminated the distant mountain peak known as Otertinden of the Lyngen Alps. The bright meteor, which coincidently disappeared behind the same mountain, was also reflected in the foreground Signalelva River. Although you might consider yourself lucky to see either an aurora or a bright meteor, pictures of them together have been recorded several times previously.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 3 - Goat Aurora Over Greenland
Explanation: Sometimes it's hard to believe what you see in the sky. During the Shelios Expedition to Greenland in late August, even veteran sky enthusiasts saw auroras so colorful, so fast changing, and so unusual in form that they could remember nothing like it. As the ever changing auroras evolved, huge shapes spread across the sky morphed from one familiar form into another, including what looked to be the head of a goat (shown above), the head of an elephant, a strange green-tailed comet, and fingers on a celestial hand. Even without the aurora, the sky would be notable for the arching band of our Milky Way Galaxy and the interesting field of stars, nebulas, and galaxies. In contrast, in the foreground is a farm house in Tasiusaq, Kujalleq. Greenland. The Shelios project exists not only to observe auroras but to motivate students to consider a career in science.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 September 21 - September Aurora
Explanation: September's equinox arrives tomorrow as the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south. The event marks the astronomical beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere and autumn in the north. And though the connection is still puzzling, the equinox seasons bring an increase in geomagnetic storms. So as northern nights grow longer, the equinox also heralds the arrival of a good season for aurora hunters. Recorded on September 20, these colorful northern lights were captured with camera and wide-angle lens near the Norwegian Sea coast outside Tromsø in Northern Norway. Shining at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, the aurora rays are parallel, but perspective makes them appear to radiate from a vanishing point behind the silhouetted pine tree. Stars in this enchanting northern night include Polaris above and right of the tree top, and yellowish giant stars Shedar (Alpha Cassiopiae) to the left and Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris) to the right. Bright Altair shines through the greenish auroral curtain at the lower left of the scene.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 August 2 - South Pole Star Trails
Explanation: No star dips below the horizon and the Sun never climbs above it in this remarkable image of 24 hour long star trails. Showing all the trails as complete circles, such an image could be achieved only from two places on planet Earth. This example was recorded during the course of May 1, 2012, the digital camera in a heated box on the roof of MAPO, the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory at the South Pole. Directly overhead in the faint constellation Octans is the projection of Earth's rotational axis, the South Celestial Pole, at the center of all the star trail circles. Not so well placed as Polaris and the North Celestial Pole, the star leaving the small but still relatively bright circle around the South Celestial Pole is Beta Hydri. The inverted umbrella structure on the horizon at the right of the allsky field of view is the ground shield for the SPUD telescope. A shimmering apparition of the aurora australis also visited on this 24 hour night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 25 - Pink Aurora Over Crater Lake
Explanation: Why is this aurora strikingly pink? When photographing picturesque Crater Lake in Oregon, USA last month, the background sky lit up with auroras of unusual colors. Although much is known about the physical mechanisms that create auroras, accurately predicting the occurrence and colors of auroras remains a topic of investigation. Typically, it is known, the lowest auroras appear green. These occur at about 100 kilometers high and involve atmospheric oxygen atoms excited by fast moving plasma from space. The next highest auroras -- at about 200 kilometers up -- appear red, and are also emitted by resettling atmospheric oxygen. Some of the highest auroras visible -- as high as 500 kilometers up -- appear blue, and are caused by sunlight-scattering nitrogen ions. When looking from the ground through different layers of distant auroras, their colors can combine to produce unique and spectacular hues, in this case rare pink hues seen above. As Solar Maximum nears over the next two years, particle explosions from the Sun are sure to continue and likely to create even more memorable nighttime displays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 8 - Volcano and Aurora in Iceland
Explanation: Sometimes both heaven and Earth erupt. In Iceland in 1991, the volcano Hekla erupted at the same time that auroras were visible overhead. Hekla, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, has erupted at least 20 times over the past millennium, sometimes causing great destruction. The last eruption occurred only twelve years ago but caused only minor damage. The green auroral band occurred fortuitously about 100 kilometers above the erupting lava. Is Earth the Solar System's only planet with both auroras and volcanos?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 8 - The Light of Stars
Explanation: What's moving? Time lapse videos of the sky can be quite spectacular when they last long enough for stars, planets, aurora, and clouds to appear to move in just a few seconds. Pictured above, however, astrovideographer Daniel López not only treats us to several inspiring time lapse videos of the night sky, but shows us how he used sliders and motorized cranes to move the imaging cameras themselves, creating a thrilling three-dimensional sense of depth. The video sequences were taken from Tenerife on the Canary Islands of Spain over the past two months, and show scenes including sunset shadows approaching Observatorio del Teide, the Milky Way shifting as the sky rotates, bright planets Venus and trailing Jupiter setting, a reddened Moon rising through differing layers of atmospheric refraction, the MAGIC gamma-ray telescopes slewing to observe a new source, and unusual foreground objects including conic Echium wildpretii plants, unusual rock formations, and a spider moving about its web. The video concludes by showing the Belt of Venus descending on Mt. Teide as the morning sun rises.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 April 30 - Aurora Over Raufarhöfn
Explanation: It was all lined up even without the colorful aurora exploding overhead. If you follow the apex line of the recently deployed monuments of Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn in northern Iceland from this vantage point, you will see that they point due north. A good way to tell is to follow their apex line to the line connecting the end stars of the Big Dipper, Merak and Dubhe, toward Polaris, the bright star near the north spin axis of the Earth projected onto the sky. By design, from this vantage point, this same apex line will also point directly at the midnight sun at its highest point in the sky just during the summer solstice of Earth's northern hemisphere. In other words, the Sun will not set at Arctic Henge during the summer solstice in late June, and at its highest point in the sky it will appear just above the aligned vertices of this modern monument. The above image was taken in late March during a beautiful auroral storm.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 April 12 - Yuri's Planet
Explanation: On another April 12th, in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human to see planet Earth from space. Commenting on his view from orbit he reported, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". To celebrate, consider this recent image from the orbiting International Space Station. A stunning view of the planet at night from an altitude of 240 miles, it was recorded on March 28. The lights of Moscow, Russia are near picture center and one of the station's solar panel arrays is on the left. Aurora and the glare of sunlight lie along the planet's gently curving horizon. Stars above the horizon include the compact Pleiades star cluster, immersed in the auroral glow.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 21 - Aurora Over Iceland
Explanation: If you see a sky like this -- photograph it. Three nights ago in Iceland, an adventurous photographer (pictured) chanced across a sky full of aurora and did just that. Afterwards, by stitching together five smaller photographs, the entire aurora-lit sky was recreated in this 180-degree panorama taken from Vatnajökull glacier. Auroras are sparked by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the magnetic environment around the Earth. Resultant energetic particles such as electrons and protons rain down near the Earth's poles and impact the air. The impacted air molecules obtain excited electrons, and when electrons in oxygen molecules fall back to their ground state, they emit green light. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 February 9 - Trees, Stars, Aurora
Explanation: Have you ever seen an aurora? Auroras are occurring again with increasing frequency. With the Sun being unusually dormant over the past four years, the amount of Sun-induced auroras has been unusually low. More recently, however, our Sun has become increasingly active and exhibiting a greater abundance of sunspots, flares, and coronal mass ejections. Solar activity like this typically expels charged particles into the Solar System, some of which may trigger Earthly auroras. Two weeks ago, beyond trees and before stars, a solar storm precipitated the above timelapse displays of picturesque auroras above Ravnastua, Skoganvarre and Lakselv, Norway. Curtains of auroral light, typically green, flow, shimmer and dance as energetic particles fall toward the Earth and excite air molecules high up in the Earth's atmosphere. With solar maximum still in the future, there may be even better opportunities to see spectacular auroras personally over the next few years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 February 1 - Red Aurora Over Australia
Explanation: Why would the sky glow red? Aurora. Last week's solar storms, emanating mostly from active sunspot region 1402, showered particles on the Earth that excited oxygen atoms high in the Earth's atmosphere. As the excited element's electrons fell back to their ground state, they emitted a red glow. Were oxygen atoms lower in Earth's atmosphere excited, the glow would be predominantly green. Pictured above, this high red aurora is visible just above the horizon last week near Flinders, Victoria, Australia. The sky that night, however, also glowed with more familiar but more distant objects, including the central disk of our Milky Way Galaxy on the left, and the neighboring Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies on the right. A time-lapse video highlighting auroras visible that night puts the picturesque scene in context. Why the sky did not also glow green remains unknown.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 28 - Planet Aurora Borealis
Explanation: Illuminated by an eerie greenish light, this remarkable little planet is covered with ice and snow and ringed by tall pine trees. Of course, this little planet is actually planet Earth, and the surrounding stars are above the horizon near Östersund, Sweden. The pale greenish illumination is from a curtain of shimmering Aurora Borealis also known as the Northern Lights. The display was triggered when a giant solar coronal mass ejection (CME) rocked planet Earth's magnetosphere on January 24th and produced a strong geomagnetic storm. Northern hemisphere skygazers will also recognize the familiar orientation of stars at the left, including the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters and the stars of Orion. Increasing solar activity has caused recent auroral displays to be wide spread, including Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights, at high southern latitudes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 24 - January Aurora Over Norway
Explanation: What's that in the sky? An aurora. A large coronal mass ejection occurred on our Sun five days ago, throwing a cloud of fast moving electrons, protons, and ions toward the Earth. Although most of this cloud passed above the Earth, some of it impacted our Earth's magnetosphere and resulted in spectacular auroras being seen at high northern latitudes. Pictured above is a particularly photogenic auroral corona captured last night above Grotfjord, Norway. To some, this shimmering green glow of recombining atmospheric oxygen might appear as a large eagle, but feel free to share what it looks like to you. This round of solar activity is not yet over -- a new and even more powerful solar flare occurred yesterday that might provide more amazing aurora as soon as tonight.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 3 - A Full Sky Aurora Over Norway
Explanation: Higher than the highest building, higher than the highest mountain, higher than the highest airplane, lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Frequently, when viewed from space, a complete aurora will appear as a circle around one of the Earth's magnetic poles. The above wide angle image, horizontally compressed, captured an unexpected auroral display that stretched across the sky one month ago over eastern Norway.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 December 5 - A Memorable Aurora Over Norway
Explanation: It was one of the most memorable auroras of the season. There was green light, red light, and sometimes a mixture of the two. There were multiple rays, distinct curtains, and even an auroral corona. It took up so much of the sky. In the background were stars too numerous to count, in the foreground a friend trying to image the same sight. The scene was captured with a fisheye lens around and above Tromsø, Norway, last month. With the Sun becoming more active, next year might bring even more spectacular aurora.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 November 21 - Around the World in 90 Minutes
Explanation: What is it like to circle the Earth? Every 90 minutes, astronauts aboard the International Space Station experience just that. Recently, crew members took a series of light-sensitive videos looking down at night that have been digitally fused to produce the above time-lapse video. Many wonders of the land and sky are visible in the eighteen sequences, including red aurora above green aurora, lights from many major cities, and stars in the background. Looming at the top of the frame is usually part of the space station itself, sometimes seen re-orienting solar panels. Please help create a useful companion guide for this moving video by identifying landmarks, cities, countries, weather phenomena, and even background constellations that appear.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 November 14 - Waterfall, Moonbow, and Aurora from Iceland
Explanation: The longer you look at this image, the more you see. Perhaps your eye is first drawn to the picturesque waterfall called Skogarfoss visible on the image right. Just as prevalent, however, in this Icelandic visual extravaganza, is the colorful arc of light on the left. This chromatic bow is not a rainbow, since the water drops did not originate in rainfall nor are they reflecting light from the Sun. Rather, the drops have drifted off from the waterfall and are now illuminated by the nearly full Moon. High above are the faint green streaks of aurora. The scene, captured one night last month, also shows a beautiful starscape far in the background, including the Big Dipper, part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 28 - October Skylights
Explanation: As northern hemisphere nights grow longer, October is a good month for spotting auroras, or even other eerie apparitions after dark. And this week the night sky did not disappoint. On October 24th a solar coronal mass ejection impacted planet Earth's magnetosphere triggering far ranging auroral displays. On that night, this dramatic silhouette against deep red and beautiful green curtains of shimmering light was captured near Whitby, Ontario, Canada. But auroras were reported even farther south, in US states like Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma at latitudes rarely haunted by the northern lights. Well above 100 kilometers, at the highest altitudes infused by the auroral glow, the red color comes from the excitation of oxygen atoms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 30 - Cloudy Night of the Northern Lights
Explanation: On September 26, a large solar coronal mass ejection smacked into planet Earth's magnetosphere producing a severe geomagnetic storm and wide spread auroras. Captured here near local midnight from Kvaløya island outside Tromsø in northern Norway, the intense auroral glow was framed by parting rain clouds. Tinted orange, the clouds are also in silhouette as the tops of the colorful shimmering curtains of northern lights extend well over 100 kilometers above the ground. Though the auroral rays are parallel, perspective makes them appear to radiate from a vanishing point at the zenith. Near the bottom of the scene, an even more distant Pleiades star cluster and bright planet Jupiter shine on this cloudy northern night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 28 - Violent Sunspot Group AR 1302 Unleashes a Flare
Explanation: One of the most active sunspot groups in years is currently crossing the Sun. AR 1302 first came around the Sun's edge last week and is so large it can be seen without a telescope. Coronal Mass Ejections from AR 1302 have already caused strong geomagnetic storms including notable aurora activity around both of Earth's poles. Pictured above, plasma was left magnetically hanging above the Sun's surface after AR 1302 emitted an X-class solar flare last Thursday. Earth is illustrated in the inset for a size comparison. Although another X-class flare was emitted on Saturday, no flares from AR 1302 have been aimed directly at the Earth, as yet. The AR 1302 sunspot group will continue to evolve but likely remain visible on the Sun for the next week.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 23 - September's Aurora
Explanation: September's equinox arrives today at 0905 UT. As the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south, spring begins in the southern hemisphere and autumn in the north. And though the seasonal connection is still puzzling, both spring and autumn bring an increase in geomagnetic storms. So as northern nights grow longer, the equinox also heralds the arrival of a good season for viewing aurora. Recorded earlier this month, these curtains of September's shimmering green light sprawl across a gorgeous night skyscape. In the foreground lies Hidden Lake Territorial Park near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Calm water reflects the aurora, with bright star trails peering through the mesmerizing sky glow. Of course, shining at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, planet Earth's auroras are visible from space.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 August 23 - Aurora Over Greenland
Explanation: This aurora arched from horizon to horizon. During the current Shelios expedition to observe and learn about the northern lights, the sky last weekend did not disappoint. After sunset and some careful photographic planning, the above image was taken from the expedition's Qaleraliq campsite in southern Greenland. Visible straight through the center of the aurora, found with a careful eye, is the Big Dipper and the surrounding constellation of the Big Bear (Ursa Major). The brightest orb on the far right is the Moon, while Jupiter can be seen even further to the right. The Shelios expedition is scheduled to last until the end of August and include live broadcasts of ongoing auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 May 17 - A Starry Night of Iceland
Explanation: On some nights, the sky is the best show in town. On this night, the sky was not only the best show in town, but a composite image of the sky won an international competition for landscape astrophotography. The above winning image was taken two months ago over Jökulsárlón, the largest glacial lake in Iceland. The photographer combined six exposures to capture not only two green auroral rings, but their reflections off the serene lake. Visible in the distant background sky is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy, the Pleiades open clusters of stars, and the Andromeda galaxy. A powerful coronal mass ejection from the Sun caused auroras to be seen as far south as Wisconsin, USA. As the Sun progresses toward solar maximum in the next few years, many more spectacular images of aurora are expected.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 March 28 - Time Lapse Auroras Over Norway
Explanation: Sometimes, after your eyes adapt to the dark, a spectacular sky appears. Such was the case earlier this month when one of the largest auroral displays in recent years appeared over northern locations like the border between Norway and Russia. Pictured in the above time-lapse movie, auroras flow over snow covered landscapes, trees, clouds, mountains and lakes found near Kirkenes, Norway. Many times the auroras are green, as high energy particles strike the Earth's atmosphere, causing the air to glow as electrons recombine with their oxygen hosts. Other colors are occasionally noticeable as atmospheric nitrogen also becomes affected. In later sequences the Moon and rising stars are also visible. With the Sun expected to become ever more active over the next few years, there may be many opportunities to see similarly spectacular auroras personally, even from areas much closer to the equator.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 March 25 - Auroral Substorm over Yellowknife
Explanation: Intense auroral activity flooded the night with shimmering colors on February 24, captured here from a lodge near the city of Yellowknife in northern Canada. The stunning sequence (left to right) of three all-sky exposures, taken at 30 second intervals, shows rapid changes in dancing curtains of northern lights against a starry background. What makes the northern lights dance? Measurements by NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft indicate that these explosions of auroral activity are driven by sudden releases of energy in the Earth's magnetosphere called magnetic reconnection events. The reconnection events release energy when magnetic field lines snap like rubber bands, driving charged particles into the upper atmosphere. Stretching into space, these reconnection events occur in the magnetosphere on the Earth's night side at a distance about 1/3 of the way to the Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 November 24 - Flowing Auroras Over Norway
Explanation: Have you ever seen an aurora? Auroras are occurring again with increasing frequency. With the Sun being unusually dormant over the past three years, the amount of Sun-induced auroras has also been unusually low. More recently, however, our Sun has become increasingly active and exhibiting a greater abundance of sunspots, flares, and coronal mass ejections. Solar activity like this typically expels charged particles into the Solar System, some of which may trigger Earthly auroras. As this year unfolded, the above timelapse displays of picturesque auroras were captured above Tromsø, Norway. Curtains of auroral light, usually green, flow, shimmer and dance as energetic particles fall toward the Earth and ionize air molecules high up in the Earth's atmosphere. With solar maximum still in the future, there may be opportunities to see spectacular aurora personally over the next three years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 6 - Aurora Over Alaska
Explanation: Are those green clouds or aurora? Photographed above two weeks ago, puffy green aurora help the Moon illuminate the serene Willow Lake and the snowy Wrangell and Saint Elias Mountains in eastern Alaska, USA. Although auroras might first appear to be moonlit clouds, they only add light to the sky and do not block background stars from view. Called northern lights in the northern hemisphere, auroras are caused by collisions between charged particles from the magnetosphere and air molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. If viewed from space, auroras can be seen to glow in X-ray and ultraviolet light as well. Predictable auroras likely occur a few days after a powerful magnetic event has been seen on the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 27 - The Dancing Auroras of Saturn
Explanation: What drives auroras on Saturn? To help find out, scientists have sorted through hundreds of infrared images of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft for other purposes, trying to find enough aurora images to correlate changes and make movies. Once made, some movies clearly show that Saturnian auroras can change not only with the angle of the Sun, but also as the planet rotates. Furthermore, some auroral changes appear related to waves in Saturn's magnetosphere likely caused by Saturn's moons. Pictured above, a false-colored image taken in 2007 shows Saturn in three bands of infrared light. The rings reflect relatively blue sunlight, while the planet itself glows in comparatively low energy red. A band of southern aurora in visible in green. Inspection of many more Saturnian images may well lead to an even better understanding of both Saturn's and Earth's auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 20 - Aurora Over Norway
Explanation: Auroras can make spectacular sights. Photographed above last weekend, flowing multi-colored auroras helped illuminate a busy sky above Tromsø, Norway. Besides the spectacular aurora pictured above, the photographer caught three satellites streaks, one airplane streak, and a friend trying to capture the same sight. Although auroras might first appear to be moonlit clouds, they only add light to the sky and do not block background stars from view. Called northern lights in the northern hemisphere, auroras are caused by collisions between charged particles from the magnetosphere and air molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. If viewed from space, auroras can be seen to glow in X-ray and ultraviolet light as well. Predictable auroras might occur a few days after a powerful magnetic event has been seen on the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 17 - Northern Lights over Prelude Lake
Explanation: Curtains of shimmering green light sprawl across this gorgeous night skyscape. In the foreground lies the peaceful Prelude Lake, located about 30 kilometers east of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. From high northern latitudes these mesmerizing northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are becoming a more familiar sight. As the September 23rd equinox approaches, nights grow longer and a favorable season for aurora begins. Recorded on September 11, this panoramic scene spans about 180 degrees. Brighter stars peering through the auroral glow at the left form the recognizable northern asterism, the Big Dipper. A more compact Pleiades star cluster shines at the far right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 August 6 - The Not So Quiet Sun
Explanation: After a long solar minimum, the Sun is no longer so quiet. On August 1, this extreme ultraviolet snapshot of the Sun from the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a complex burst of activity playing across the Sun's northern hemisphere. The false-color image shows the hot solar plasma at temperatures ranging from 1 to 2 million kelvins. Along with the erupting filaments and prominences, a small(!) solar flare spawned in the active region at the left was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), a billion-ton cloud of energetic particles headed for planet Earth. Making the 93 million mile trip in only two days, the CME impacted Earth's magnetosphere, triggering a geomagnetic storm and both northern and southern auroral displays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 1 - Above Aurora Australis
Explanation: On May 29, looking southward from a vantage point about 350 kilometers above the southern Indian Ocean, astronauts onboard the International Space Station watched this enormous, green ribbon shimmering below. Known as aurora australis or southern lights, the shifting, luminous bands are commonly seen at high northern latitudes as well, there known as the aurora borealis or northern lights. North or south their cause is the same though, as energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere pile into the atmosphere near the Earth's poles. To produce the characteristic greenish glow, the energetic particles excite oxygen atoms at altitudes of 100 kilometers or more. Aurora on May 29 were likely triggered by the interaction of the magnetosphere with a coronal mass ejection erupting from the Sun on May 24.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 March 11 - Yukon Aurora with Star Trails
Explanation: Fixed to a tripod, a camera can record graceful trails traced by stars as planet Earth rotates on its axis. But at high latitudes during March and April, it can also capture an aurora shimmering in the night. In fact, the weeks surrounding the equinox, in both spring and fall, offer a favorable season for aurora hunters. The possibilities are demonstrated in this beautiful moonlit vista from northwestern Canadian territory the Yukon. It was taken during the early morning of March 1, off the Klondike Highway about 60 kilometers south of Dawson City. To compose the picture, many short exposures were digitally combined to follow the concentric star trail arcs while including the greenish auroral curtains also known as the northern lights.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 19 - Aurora Shimmer, Meteor Flash
Explanation: Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, haunted skies over the island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø Norway on December 13. This 30 second long exposure records their shimmering glow gently lighting the wintery coastal scene. A study in contrasts, it also captures the sudden flash of a fireball meteor from December's excellent Geminid meteor shower. Streaking past familiar stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, the trail points back toward the constellation Gemini, off the top of the view. Both aurora and meteors occur in Earth's upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, but aurora are caused by energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere, while meteors are trails of cosmic dust.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 September 22 - Aurora Over Yellowknife
Explanation: Sometimes, after your eyes adapt to the dark, a spectacular sky appears. In this case, a picturesque lake lies in front of you, beautiful green auroras flap high above you, brilliant stars shine far in the distance, and a brilliant moon shines just ahead of you. This digitally fused panorama was captured earlier this month from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, and includes the Pleiades open cluster of stars just to the upper right of the Moon. Since auroras are ultimately started by solar activity, this current flurry of auroras is somewhat surprising, given the historic lack of sunspots and other activity on the Sun over the past two years. This time of year is known as aurora season, however, for noted average increases in auroras. The reason for the yearly increase is not known for sure, but possibly relates to the tilt of the Earth creating a more easily traversable connection between the Earth's magnetic field and the magnetic field of the Sun's changing wind streams.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 28 - A Floral Aurora Corona
Explanation: Few auroras show this level of detail. Above, a standard digital camera captured a particularly active and colorful auroral corona that occurred last week above Alberta, Canada. With a shape reminiscent of a flower, the spectacular aurora had an unusually high degree of detail. The vivid green and purple auroral colors are caused by high atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen reacting to a burst of incoming electrons. Many photogenic auroras have been triggered from a solar wind stream that recently passed the Earth. The auroras were unexpected because the initiating Sun has been unusually quiet of late.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 1 - Auroral Corona Over Norway
Explanation: Higher than highest communications tower, higher than highest mountain, higher than highest airplane, lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Frequently, when viewed from space, a complete aurora will appear as a circle around one of the Earth's magnetic poles. This particularly rare purple auroral corona occurred in 2004 high above Harstad, Norway.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 19 - Unusual Auroras Over Saturns North Pole
Explanation: What's causing this unusual aurora over Saturn? No one is sure. Infrared images by the robotic Cassini spacecraft of the north pole of Saturn have uncovered aurora unlike any other seen previously in our Solar System. The strange aurora are shown in blue in the above image, while the underlying clouds are shown in red. The previously recorded, also-strange hexagon cloud patterns are visible in red below the aurora. These Saturnian aurora can cover the entire pole, while auroras around Earth and Jupiter are typically confined by magnetic fields to rings surrounding the magnetic poles. More normal auroral rings had been previously imaged around Saturn. The recently imaged strange auroras above Saturn's north pole can change their global patterns significantly in only a few minutes. The large and variable nature of these auroras indicate that charged particles streaming in from the Sun are experiencing some type of magnetism above Saturn that was previously unexpected.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 August 9 - Aurora Persei
Explanation: Dark skies are favored for viewing meteor showers -- so the best viewing of this year's Perseids will occur in the early morning. While the Perseid meteor shower is scheduled to peak over the next few days, bright light from a gibbous Moon will also flood the early evening and mask the majority of relatively faint meteors. Still, skygazing in the early morning after the Moon sets (after about 2 AM local time) could reveal many faint meteors. Persistant observing at any time after sunset can reward northern hemisphere watchers looking for occasional Perseid fireballs. Astronomer Jimmy Westlake imaged this bright Perseid meteor despite the combination of moonlight and auroral glow over Colorado skies in August of 2000.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 April 15 - Sky Delights Over Sweden
Explanation: This night was a sky enthusiast's delight. While relaxing in Sweden last week, many a cosmic wonder was captured with a single snapshot. They are described here from near to far. In the foreground are nearby trees and more distant snow covered mountains. In silhouette, Clouds can be seen just above the horizon, and a careful eye can even discern the more distant green and red auroras which occur in Earth's upper atmosphere. Red emission nebulas dot the sky, including the Heart and Soul Nebulas, IC 1396 and the North America Nebula. Running diagonally from the upper left to the lower right is the majestic glowing band of our Milky Way Galaxy's central plane.. More distant than everything else, appearing as it did over two million years ago, is the Andromeda galaxy, visible above the horizon toward on the lower left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 7 - Quadrantid Meteors and Aurora from the Air
Explanation: Where do meteor showers originate? To help answer this question, astronomers studied in some detail the Quadrantid meteor shower that occurred over this past weekend. In particular, astronomers with specialized cameras flew as part of the Quadrantid's Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign (MAC) aboard a Gulfstream V aircraft above northern Canada over the past few days and studied the Quadrantid meteor shower in unprecedented detail. Pictured above is a composite image combining many short exposures. Visible in the image are the wingtip of the airplane reflecting a red beacon on the left, green aurora most prominent on the image right, and numerous meteor streaks throughout. Preliminary indications are that the meteor stream is quite stable in time but variable in meteor abundance. Over 100 meteors per hour were visible at the peak from the MAC aircraft. Meteor data from around the world will continue to be analyzed to try to verify Peter Jenniskens's recent hypothesis that minor planet 2003 EH1 is an intermittently active comet and the parent body of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 1 - Rays from an Unexpected Aurora
Explanation: This aurora was a bit of a surprise. For starters, on this day in 2002, no intense auroral activity was expected at all. Possibly more surprising, however, the aurora appeared to show an usual structure of green rays from some locations. In this view, captured from North Dakota, USA, a picket fence of green rays stretches toward the horizon. Mirroring the green rays is a red band, somewhat rare in its own right. Lights from the cities of Bismarck and Mandan are visible near the horizon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 November 19 - Aurora in the Distance
Explanation: Some auroras can only be seen with a camera. They are called sub-visual and are too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. The reason is that the human eye only accumulates light for a fraction of a second at a time, while a camera shutter can be left open indefinitely. When photographing an already picturesque scene above Juneau, Alaska, USA, a camera caught green sub-visual aurora near the horizon. Auroras are sparked by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the magnetic environment around the Earth. Resultant energetic particles such as electrons and protons rain down near the Earth's poles and impact the air. The impacted air molecules temporarily lose electrons, and when oxygen molecules among them reacquire these electrons, they emit green light. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 October 9 - Aurora, Stars, Meteor, Lake, Alaska
Explanation: Sometimes, after your eyes adapt to the dark, a spectacular sky appears. In this case, a picturesque lake lies in front of you, beautiful green aurora flap high above you, brilliant stars shine far in the distance, and, for a brief moment, a bright meteor streaks by. This digitally fused breathtaking panorama was captured late last month across one of the Chena Lakes in North Pole, Alaska, USA, and includes the Pleiades open cluster of stars on the image right. The shot is unusual not only for the many wonders it has captured simultaneously, but because lakes this far north tend to freeze and become non-reflecting before a sky this dark can be photographed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 September 27 - Hole in the Sun
Explanation: The dark expanse below the equator of the Sun is a coronal hole -- a low density region extending above the surface where the solar magnetic field opens freely into interplanetary space. Shown in false color, the picture was recorded on September 19th in extreme ultraviolet light by the EIT instrument onboard the space-based SOHO observatory. Studied extensively from space since the 1960s in ultraviolet and x-ray light, coronal holes are known to be the source of the high-speed solar wind, atoms and electrons that flow outward along the open magnetic field lines. The solar wind streaming from this coronal hole triggered colorful auroral displays on planet Earth begining late last week, enjoyed by spaceweather watchers at high latitudes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 July 15 - Aurora from Space
Explanation: From the ground, spectacular auroras seem to dance high above. But the International Space Station (ISS) orbits at nearly the same height as many auroras, sometimes passing over them, and sometimes right through them. Still, the auroral electron and proton streams pose no direct danger to the ISS. In 2003, ISS Science Officer Don Pettit captured the green aurora, pictured above in a digitally sharpened image. From orbit, Pettit reported that changing auroras appeared to crawl around like giant green amoebas. Over 300 kilometers below, the Manicouagan Impact Crater can be seen in northern Canada, planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 9 - Aurora Over Alaska
Explanation: Higher than the highest mountain, higher than the highest airplane, lies the realm of the aurora. Aurora rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from solar shockwave causing energetic electrons and protons to striking molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Frequently, when viewed from space, a complete aurora will appear as a circle around one of the Earth's magnetic poles. The above digitally enhanced photograph was taken in 2005 January shows a spectacular aurora borealis above the frozen landscape of Bear Lake, Alaska, USA. The above image was voted Wikipedia Commons Picture of the Year for 2006.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 December 18 - Aurora Over Iowa
Explanation: Last Thursday evening, stars were not the only lights in Iowa skies. Spectacular northern lights also shone from the heavens, extending across the midwestern USA and other locations not often graced with auroral displays. The wide-ranging auroral activity was triggered as a large solar flare - an energetic cloud of particles blasted outward from the Sun a few days earlier - collided with planet Earth's magnetosphere. Alerted to conditions ripe for aurora, photographer Stan Richard recorded this apparition over Saylorville Lake, near Des Moines, Iowa, USA. While the colorful rays seem to end just above the water, they are actually at altitudes of 100 kilometers or more.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 6 - Green Aurora Over Lake Superior
Explanation: What if your horizon was green? If you've got a camera, take a picture! That was the experience of Jeff Hapeman last week when visiting the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. On a quiet night toward the northern horizon over Lake Superior was a long lasting diffuse green aurora. The above image was taken in an effort to capture the sense of wonder one gets when watching an auroral display. Auroras are sparked by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the magnetic environment around the Earth. Resultant energetic particles such as electrons and protons rain down near the Earth's poles and impact the air. The impacted air molecules temporarily lose electrons, and when oxygen molecules among them reacquire these electrons, they emit green light. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 August 11 - Perseid in the Light
Explanation: Dark skies are favored for viewing meteor showers -- so many are pessimistic about this year's Perseids. While the Perseid meteor shower is scheduled to peak this weekend, bright light from an almost full Moon will also flood the night and mask the majority of relatively faint meteors. Still, skygazing in the evening before the Moon rises (before about 10 PM local time) could reveal spectacular earthgrazing meteors. Persisting even later into the moonlit night can reward northern hemisphere watchers looking for occasional Perseid fireballs. In fact, astronomer Jimmy Westlake imaged this bright Perseid meteor despite the combination of moonlight and auroral glow over Colorado skies in August of 2000.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 29 - Green and Black Auroras Over Norway
Explanation: What causes gaps between aurora curtains? These unusual gaps can make auroral displays appear more detailed and intricate. Research using data from four Cluster spacecraft orbiting the Earth has likely found the secret: auroral gaps, sometimes knows as black auroras, are actually anti-auroras. In normal auroras, electrons and/or predominantly negatively charged particles fall toward Earth along surfaces of constant magnetic field. They ionize the Earth's atmosphere on impact, causing the bright glows. In auroral gaps, however, negatively charged particles may be sucked out from the Earth's ionosphere along adjoining magnetic field lines. These dark anti-auroras can climb to over 20,000 kilometers and last for several minutes. Pictured above, a series of well-defined auroral gaps is seen dividing green aurora curtains high above Harstad, Norway, earlier this month.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 5 - Colorful Light Pillars
Explanation: How can an aurora appear so near the ground? Pictured above are not aurora but nearby light pillars, a local phenomenon that can appear as a distant one. In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up from the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns not unlike a Sun-pillar. In the above picture, the colorful lights causing the light pillars surround a ice-skating rink in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 January 29 - Volcano and Aurora in Iceland
Explanation: Sometimes both heaven and Earth erupt. In Iceland in 1991, the volcano Hekla erupted at the same time that auroras were visible overhead. Hekla, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, has erupted at least 20 times over the past millennium, sometimes causing great destruction. The last eruption occurred only six years ago but caused only minor damage. The green auroral band occurred fortuitously about 100 kilometers above the erupting lava. Is Earth the Solar System's only planet with both auroras and volcanos?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 November 20 - Rays from an Unexpected Aurora
Explanation: This aurora was a bit of a surprise. For starters, on this Friday morning in August 2002, no intense auroral activity was expected at all. Possibly more surprising, however, the aurora appeared to show an usual structure of green rays from some locations. In the above image, captured from North Dakota, USA, a picket fence of green rays stretches toward the horizon. Mirroring the green rays is a red band, somewhat rare in its own right. Lights from the cities of Bismarck and Mandan are visible near the horizon. Large sunspot groups indicate that activity from an active Sun is relatively likely, possibly causing other streams of energetic particles to cascade onto the Earth and so causing more auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 November 5 - Aurora from Space
Explanation: From the ground, spectacular auroras seem to dance high above. But the International Space Station (ISS) orbits at nearly the same height as many auroras, sometimes passing over them, and sometimes right through them. Still, the auroral electron and proton streams pose no direct danger to the ISS. In 2003, ISS Science Officer Don Pettit captured the green aurora, pictured above in a digitally sharpened image. From orbit, Pettit reported that changing auroras appeared to crawl around like giant green amoebas. Over 300 kilometers below, the Manicouagan Impact Crater can be seen in northern Canada, planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 16 - Northern Lights, September Skies
Explanation: So far, the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights have made some remarkable visits to September's skies. The reason, of course, is the not-so-quiet Sun. In particular, a large solar active region now crossing the Sun's disk has produced multiple, intense flares and a large coronal mass ejection (CME) that triggered wide spread auroral activity just last weekend. This colorful example of spectacular curtains of aurora was captured with a fish-eye lens in skies over Quebec, Canada on September 11. Also featured is the planet Mars, the brightest object above and left of center. Seen near Mars (just below and to the right) is the tightly knit Pleiades star cluster. Although they can appear to be quite close, the northern lights actually originate at extreme altitudes, 100 kilometers or so above the Earth's surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 August 7 - Dueling Auroras
Explanation: Will it be curtains for one of these auroras? A quick inspection indicates that it is curtains for both, as the designation "curtains" well categorizes the type of aurora pattern pictured. Another (informal) type is the corona. The above auroras resulted from outbursts of ionic particles from the Sun during the last week of 2001 September. A polarity change in the solar magnetic field at the Earth then triggered auroras over the next few days. The above picture was taken on 2001 October 3 as fleeting space radiation pelted the Earth's atmosphere high above the Yukon in Canada.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 20 - Aurora Iowa
Explanation: Early last Sunday morning stars were not the only lights in Iowa skies. The northern lights also shone from the heavens, extending across the midwestern USA and other locations not often graced with auroral displays. The wide-ranging auroral activity was triggered as a coronal mass ejection - an energetic cloud of particles blasted outward from the Sun a few days earlier - collided with planet Earth's magnetosphere. Alerted to conditions ripe for aurora, photographer Stan Richard recorded this aparition over Saylorville Lake, near Des Moines. Bright planet Mars in the constellation Aquarius is above the horizon near the center of the eastward-looking view. While the colorful rays seem to end just above the water, they are actually at altitudes of 100 kilometers or more.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 22 - Persistent Saturnian Auroras
Explanation: Are Saturn's auroras like Earth's? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn's South Pole simultaneously as Cassini closed in on the gas giant in January 2004. Hubble snapped images in ultraviolet light, while Cassini recorded radio emissions and monitored the solar wind. Like on Earth, Saturn's auroras make total or partial rings around magnetic poles. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn's auroras persist for days, as opposed to only minutes on Earth. Although surely created by charged particles entering the atmosphere, Saturn's auroras also appear to be more closely modulated by the solar wind than either Earth's or Jupiter's auroras. The above sequence shows three Hubble images of Saturn each taken two days apart.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 19 - Saturnian Aurora
Explanation: Saturn's Rings are one of the most spectacular sights in the solar system. Still, this image from the Hubble Space Telescope offers a striking view of another kind of ring around Saturn - pole encircling rings of ultraviolet aurora. Towering more than 1,000 miles above the cloud tops, these Saturnian auroral displays were thought to be analogous to Earth's. But following the ebb and flow of Saturn's aurora, with the Hubble's cameras and instruments onboard the Cassini spacecraft, researchers are now reporting some surprising results. In this false-color image made in ultraviolet light, the dramatic red aurora identify emission from atomic hydrogen, while the more concentrated white areas are due to hydrogen molecules.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 17 - Aurora Over Wisconsin
Explanation: The auroral displays of the past week are being reported as some of the most beautiful in memory. In particular, impressive auroral bands fanned out over much of eastern North America after sunset on November 8. The multicolored aurora pictured above was caught reflecting in one of the many small lakes in central Wisconsin near that time. Continued solar activity might create more aurora visible over the next few nights as the Leonids meteor shower peaks.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 12 - Missouri's Green Ribbon Sky
Explanation: The critics rave - "Amazing!", "Unbelievable!", "The best I've ever seen!" They aren't talking about a movie, though. Instead, even casual sky critics are remarking on November's stunning auroral displays, visible with surprising intensities well beyond the confines of high latitudes where auroral activity is normally observed. In fact, in this example of an unforgettable performance a green ribbon of auroral light stretches from horizon to horizon - recorded on November 7th with a fisheye lens near Warrensburg, Missouri, USA. Want to see an aurora? Relatively wide-spread displays may continue, triggered by activity from an energetic sunspot region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 9 - A Full Sky Multicolored Auroral Corona
Explanation: On some nights the sky is the most interesting show in town. This fisheye picture captures a particularly active and colorful auroral corona that occurred two days ago over l'Observatoire de la Decouverte in Val Belair near Quebec, Canada. The above spectacular aurora has an unusually high degree of detail, range of colors, and breadth across the sky. The vivid green, red, and blue auroral colors are likely caused by high atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen reacting to incoming electrons. The trigger events were magnetically induced explosions on the Sun from sunspot region 696 over the past few days. Continued activity from this active solar region could mean more auroras visible to northern observers over the next few days. Early in the morning but far in the background, planets, stars and the Moon will be simultaneously putting on their own show.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 28 - Aurora Over a Communications Tower
Explanation: Higher than highest communications tower, higher than highest mountain, higher than highest airplane, lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Frequently, when viewed from space, a complete aurora will appear as a circle around one of the Earth's magnetic poles. Pictured above is a particularly rare purple auroral corona that occurred on August 30, high above Harstad, Norway.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 August 8 - Contemplating the Sky
Explanation: Have you contemplated your sky recently? This week will be a good one for midnight meditators at many northerly locations as meteors from the Perseid meteor shower will frequently streak through. The Perseid meteor shower has slowly been building to a crescendo and should peak on the nights of August 11 and 12. Pictured above on 2002 August 1, a group of celestial sightseers near Quebec, Canada are treated to a dark and wondrous night sky that contained bright stars, green auroras, the band of our Milky Way galaxy, a majestic Moon rising, the International Space Station slowly gliding by, and the occasional flash of a Perseid meteor. Although no meteors were caught in this frame, the Big Dipper remained quite prominent.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 30 - Northern Lights
Explanation: While enjoying the spaceweather on a gorgeous summer evening in mid-July, astronomer Philippe Moussette captured this colorful fish-eye lens view looking north from the Observatoire Mont Cosmos, Quebec, Canada, planet Earth. In the foreground, lights along the northern horizon give an orange cast to the low clouds. But far above the clouds, at altitudes of 100 kilometers or more, are alluring green and purple hues of the aurora borealis or northern lights, a glow powered by energetic particles at the edge of space. In the background are familiar stars of the northern sky. In particular, that famous celestial kitchen utensil, the Big Dipper (left), and the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia (right) are easy to spot. Then, just follow the pointer stars of the Big Dipper to Polaris, perhaps the most famous northern light of all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 13 - Volcano and Aurora in Iceland
Explanation: Sometimes both heaven and Earth erupt. In Iceland in 1991, the volcano Hekla erupted at the same time that auroras were visible overhead. Hekla, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, has erupted at least 20 times over the past millennium, sometimes causing great destruction. The last eruption occurred only two years ago but caused only minor damage. The green auroral band occurred fortuitously about 100 kilometers above the erupting lava. Is Earth the Solar System's only planet with both auroras and volcanos?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 December 17 - A Proton Aurora
Explanation: What are auroras made out of? Triggered by solar activity, normal auroras are caused by collisions between fast-moving electrons and the oxygen and nitrogen in Earth's upper atmosphere. The electrons come from the magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Earth's magnetic field. As the excited oxygen and nitrogen molecules return to their low energy state, they emit light, seen as the auroral glow. Sometimes, however, auroras can be caused by collisions with heavier protons, causing a more energetic display with strong ultraviolet emission. In addition, protons can temporarily capture an electron and emit light for themselves. Such a proton aurora is seen above, recorded by the IMAGE satellite. A special feature is the bright spot near picture center, embedded in a ring of auroral emission around the north magnetic pole of planet Earth. Most solar wind protons never reach the Earth to cause auroras because they are completely deflected away at a great distance by the Earth's magnetic field. The bright spot in the auroral ring indicates a particularly deep crack in the Earth's magnetic field where protons were able to flow along a temporarily connected region between the Sun and the Earth, relatively undeflected, until they impacted the Earth's ionosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 13 - Aurora Oklahoma
Explanation: Nestled in the central US, the state of Oklahoma is noted for its gorgeous prairie skies and wide-open spaces, but not for frequent visitations of the northern lights. Still, following the intense solar activity late last month, aurora did come sweeping down the Oklahoma plains and skywatcher Dave Ewoldt managed to catch up with this photogenic apparition 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City at about 3am CST on October 29. Anticipating aurora sightings, Ewoldt had spent the evening photographing nighttime views of small towns in the area while keeping an eye toward the north. He reports, "I was just about ready to call it a night when the show started. When it did, it was like someone turned on a lightswitch. I wish it would have lasted longer... [it] seemed like it was completely done in about 25 minutes." Watery reflections of the colorful show highlight the foreground in the stunning image while stars of the Big Dipper and the northern sky shine behind the dazzling Oklahoma auroral display.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 4 - Aurora Over Edmonton
Explanation: Northern and southern locales saw many a beautiful aurora over the last week, as particles from several large solar flares impacted the Earth. Many reported unusually red auroras, although colors across the spectrum were also seen. Power grids and orbiting satellites braced for the onslaught, but little lasting damage was reported. Pictured above, the Clover Bar Power Plant was photographed from the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A small pond in the foreground reflects predominantly green aurora light far in the distance. Two days ago, again unexpectedly, another large solar flare occurred from sunspot group 10486, the site of other recent major flares. This unusually active solar region is now rotating to the far side of the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 October 30 - Aurora in Colorado Skies
Explanation: Vivid auroral displays were triggered by a cloud of high energy particles and magnetic fields from the Sun that collided with planet Earth's magnetosphere yesterday, October 29, at about 06:30 Universal Time. The collision was anticipated, following an intense solar flare and coronal mass ejection detected on October 28, and many anxious skywatchers were rewarded with an enjoyable light show. While aurorae don't normally haunt skies in the southern United States, they were reported from locations in Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, and California in the early morning hours. Near Yampa, Colorado astronomer Jimmy Westlake also spent early yesterday morning enjoying the stormy space weather. He was impressed by this colorful apparition of the northern lights -- produced by oxygen and nitrogen atoms excited by collisions with energetic particles from the magnetosphere and returning to lower energy states, at altitudes of 100 kilometers or more. Brighter stars shine through the extreme high-altitude glow which shows much lower clouds and the distant horizon in silhouette.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 October 25 - Islands in the Photosphere
Explanation: Awash in a sea of plasma and anchored in magnetic fields, sunspots are planet-sized, dark islands in the solar photosphere, the bright surface of the Sun. Before the enlightened(!) age of cameras, solar observers created detailed drawings of sunspots as they changed and progressed across the visible solar disk. But contemporary observers also regularly use this time-honored method of monitoring sunspots. In this sketch from March 6th 2001, astronomer Gunther Groenez has faithfully recorded the intriguing shapes and shades of major visible sunspot groups and labeled them according to their NOAA active region number. Solar north is up and east to the right. Groenez' technical equipment includes H and 2H pencil leads for the sunspot umbra (dark) and penumbra (light) areas respectively. Want to draw sunspots too? Now's your chance as two large sunspot groups are presently making their way across the solar disk. Activity associated with these large sunspots may trigger aurora in the coming days.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 September 29 - Aurora Over the Chugach Mountains
Explanation: Auroras can make spectacular sights. Photographed above, flowing green auroras help the Moon illuminate the serene Portage Lake and the snowy Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Although auroras might first appear to be moonlit clouds, they only add light to the sky and do not block background stars from view. Called northern lights in the northern hemisphere, auroras are caused by collisions between charged particles from the magnetosphere and air molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. If viewed from space, auroras can be seen to glow in X-ray and ultraviolet light as well. Predictable auroras likely occur a few days after a powerful magnetic event has been seen on the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 September 10 - Aurora Over Clouds
Explanation: Aurorae usually occur high above the clouds. The auroral glow is created when fast-moving charged particles from the Earth's magnetosphere impact air molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. An oxygen molecule, for example, will emit a green light when reacquiring an electron lost during a collision. The lowest part of an aurora will typically occur at 100 kilometers and up, while most clouds usually exist only below about 10 kilometers. The relative heights of clouds and auroras are shown clearly in the above picture taken last month from near Quebec City, Canada. The most likely time to see an aurora is around midnight.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 August 9 - A Perseid Aurora
Explanation: Just after the Moon set but before the Sun rose in the early morning hours of 2000 August 12, meteors pelted the Earth from the direction of the constellation Perseus, while ions pelted the Earth from the Sun. The meteors were expected as sub-sand grains long left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle annually create the Perseids Meteor Shower. The aurorae were unexpected, however, as electrons, protons, and heavier ions raced out from a large Coronal Mass Ejection that had occurred just days before on the Sun. In the foreground is Hahn's Peak, an extinct volcano in Colorado, USA. The Perseid meteor shower peaks this year over the next few days, with as much as one bright meteor per minute visible from some locations.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 2 - Aurora Over Cape Cod
Explanation: Active pillars of colorful aurora were captured dancing over a serenely smooth and nearly colorless Cape Cod Bay last month. North is straight ahead so that the town lights near the center originate from Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA. The unusual red colors in the aurora slightly reflect off the ocean inlet. Several familiar constellations are visible in the sky, including the famous stellar W of Cassiopeia on the far right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 April 8 - Aurora from Space
Explanation: What do auroras look like from space? From the ground, auroras dance high above clouds, frequently causing spectacular displays. The International Space Station (ISS) orbits just at the same height as many auroras, though. Therefore, sometimes it flies over them, but also sometimes it flies right through. The auroral electron and proton streams are too thin to be a danger to the ISS, just as clouds pose little danger to airplanes. ISS Science Officer Don Pettit captured a green aurora, pictured above in a digitally sharpened image. From orbit, Dr. Pettit reports, changing auroras can appear to crawl around like giant green amoebas. Far below, on planet Earth, the Manicouagan Impact Crater can be seen in northern Canada.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 March 18 - Coronal Holes on the Sun
Explanation: The ominous, dark shapes haunting the left side of the Sun are coronal holes -- low density regions extending above the surface where the solar magnetic field opens freely into interplanetary space. Studied extensively from space since the 1960s in ultraviolet and x-ray light, coronal holes are known to be the source of the high-speed solar wind, atoms and electrons which flow outward along the open magnetic field lines. During periods of low activity, coronal holes typically cover regions just above the Sun's poles. These coronal holes, however, have just moved into view near the Sun's equator, and particles escaping them have already caused notable aurora here on Earth. Coronal holes like this one may last for a few solar rotations before the magnetic fields shift and change configurations. Shown in false-color, this picture of the Sun on March 9 was made in extreme ultraviolet light by the EIT instrument on board the space-based SOHO observatory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 31 - Auroral Rocket Launch
Explanation: In this striking image, a rocket climbs skyward toward an expansive green auroral display in the first launch of 2003 from the University of Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range. Recorded on January 27th, the view from Cleary Summit near Fairbanks, Alaska shows the fiery tracks of both solid fuel stages of the Black Brant IX sounding rocket that lofted its payload to an altitude of 385 kilometers. Compared to rockets which launch payloads to Earth orbit and beyond, sounding rockets are small and relatively inexpensive. They get their generic name from the nautical term "to sound" which means to take measurements. Known as HIBAR (HIgh Bandwidth Auroral Rocket), this experiment was designed to measure aurora related high-frequency plasma waves which may originate thousands of kilometers above the aurora's visible glow.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 October 31 - Aurora in the Night
Explanation: For much of the month of October, traveling shock waves from the Sun and solar wind gusts have buffeted planet Earth's magnetosphere. As a result, skywatchers at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere were treated to many displays of the aurora borealis or northern lights. For example, on the first of October this particularly ghostly apparition was photographed looming above the horizon near the town of Inari in northern Finnish Lapland. But the solar wind is dying down for now. So if you just happen to be out tonight and you see such a specter haunting your skies ... it may not be an aurora. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 October 15 - Aurora's Ring
Explanation: Gusting solar winds and blasts of charged particles from the Sun made the early days of October rewarding ones for those anticipating auroras. While out enjoying the stormy space weather from Toemmeraas, Norway, Trygve Lindersen recorded this picturesque apparition of the northern lights with a digital camera on October 6. From this perspective, the curtains of green light formed a ring which seemed to hover, wraithlike, just above the foreground trees. But the ring of light was actually 100 kilometers or more above the trees and the greenish glow produced by oxygen molecules interacting with energetic electrons and fluorescing near the edge of space. After days of enchanting auroral displays on planet Earth, the solar activity which triggered October's geomagnetic storms seems to have subsided ... for now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 September 2 - Colorful Light Pillars
Explanation: How can an aurora appear so near the ground? Pictured above are not aurora but nearby light pillars, a local phenomenon that can appear as a distant one. In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up from the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns not unlike a Sun-pillar. In the above picture, the colorful lights causing the light pillars surround a ice-skating rink in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 15 - Meteors and Northern Lights
Explanation: Skygazers report that the annual Perseid meteor shower went pretty much as predicted, producing a meteor every few minutes during the dark early morning hours of August 12 and 13. And as the constellation Perseus rose above the horizon on the night of August 11, astrophotographer Wade Clark was anticipating recording images of the flashing meteor trails from the Mt. Baker Ski Area in northwest Washington, USA. But Clark was also treated to a colorful display of northern lights. As a result, the stars of Perseus are arrayed near the center of his well composed skyscape along with trails of Perseid meteors all viewed through the auroral glow. The alluring scene might look familiar to watchers of bygone Perseids. For many, views of the meteor shower in 2000 also coincided with auroral displays, courtesy of the active Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 13 - Contemplating the Sky
Explanation: Have you contemplated your sky recently? Last night was a good one for midnight meditators at many northerly locations as meteors from the Perseid meteor shower frequently streaked through. The Perseid meteor shower has slowly been building to a crescendo but should continue to be rewarding tonight and into the week. Pictured above on August 1, a group of celestial sightseers near Quebec, Canada are treated to a dark and wondrous night sky that contained bright stars, green auroras, the band of our Milky Way galaxy, a majestic Moon rising, the International Space Station slowly gliding by, and the occasional flash of a Perseid meteor. Although no meteors were caught in this frame, the Big Dipper remained quite prominent.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 5 - Rays from an Unexpected Aurora
Explanation: This aurora was a bit of a surprise. For starters, last Friday morning, no intense auroral activity was expected at all. Possibly more surprising, however, the aurora appeared to show an usual structure of green rays from some locations. In the above image, captured from North Dakota, USA, a picket fence of green rays stretches toward the horizon. Mirroring the green rays is a red band, somewhat rare in its own right. Lights from the cities of Bismarck and Mandan are visible near the horizon. Large sunspot groups indicate that activity from the currently active Sun is relatively likely, possibly causing other streams of energetic particles to cascade onto the Earth and so causing more auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 April 22 - Comet and Aurora Over Alaska
Explanation: Can you spot the comet? Flowing across the frozen Alaskan landscape is an easily visible, colorful aurora. Just to the lower left, however, well in the background, is something harder to spot: Comet Ikeya-Zhang, the brightest comet of recent years. Although the aurora faded in minutes, the comet is just now beginning to fade. It remains just barely visible without aid, however, before sunrise in the East. The comet is actually a giant dirt-covered snowball that spends most of its time in the outer Solar System -- to where it is now returns. The above photograph was taken on March 20 when Comet Ikeya-Zhang was near its brightest. Careful inspection of the photo will uncover several other sky delights, including the giant galaxy M31.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 20 - Aurora Over Antarctica
Explanation: Looking out from the bottom of the world, strange and spectacular sights are sometimes observed. Such was the case during the long Antarctic night of 1998, as awesome aurora sub-storms were photographed above scientific outposts. Visible in the left foreground of the above photograph is the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory while the now defunct SPIREX telescope canvas dome is visible to its right. The outside temperature at the time this photograph was taken was about -73 Celsius (-100 Fahrenheit), although a slightly heated box sheltered the camera.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 1 - Jupiter's Great X Ray Spot
Explanation: The Solar System's largest planet, gas giant Jupiter, is famous for its swirling Great Red Spot. In the right hand panel above, the familiar giant planet with storm system and cloud bands is shown in an optical image from the passing Cassini spacecraft. In the left hand panel, a false-color image from the orbiting Chandra Observatory presents a corresponding x-ray view of Jupiter. The Chandra image shows clearly, for the first time, x-ray spots and auroral x-ray emission from the poles. The x-ray spot dominating the emission from Jupiter's north pole (top) is perhaps as surprising for astronomers today as the Great Red Spot once was. Confounding previous theories, the x-ray spot is too far north to be associated with heavy electrically charged particles from the vicinity of volcanic moon Io. Chandra data also show that the spot's x-ray emission mysteriously pulsates over a period of about 45 minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 21 - Volcano and Aurora in Iceland
Explanation: Sometimes both heaven and Earth erupt. In Iceland in 1991, the volcano Hekla erupted at the same time that auroras were visible overhead. Hekla, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, has erupted at least 20 times over the past millennium, sometimes causing great destruction. The last eruption occurred only two years ago but caused only minor damage. The green auroral band occurred fortuitously about 100 kilometers above the erupting lava. Is Earth the Solar System's only planet with both auroras and volcanos?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 20 - Callisto Full Face
Explanation: Callisto's surface shows its age. While probably formed at the same time as Io, the difference between the surfaces of these two moons of Jupiter could hardly be greater. Io's surface is young, shows practically no impact craters, and is continually being repaved by the lava exploding from its many large volcanoes. Callisto's surface is old, shows the highest density of impact craters in the Solar System, and harbors no volcanoes or even any large mountains. Callisto's surface is one large ice-field, laced with cracks and craters from billions of years of collisions with interplanetary debris. The above image was taken in 2001 May and is, so far, the only complete global color image taken by the Jupiter-orbiting Galileo spacecraft.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 15 - Red Auroral Corona
Explanation: Few auroras show this level of detail. This unusual display of an auroral corona occurred on Earth three days after an unusual solar event -- the fifth most powerful explosion yet recorded on the Sun. An X14-class solar flare on April 15 sent a tremendous Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) into the Solar System. This CME did not directly impact the Earth. The Solar-System wide shock wave it created probably did, however, causing a G3-class geomagnetic storm and a night filled with colorful auroras across much of northern North America. The unusual red color of this Michigan aurora is caused by solar ions striking oxygen molecules 300 kilometers high in Earth's atmosphere. More typical green auroras are caused by oxygen recombining only 100 kilometers high.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 1 - The Secret of the Black Aurora
Explanation: What causes black aurora? These gaps in normal bright aurora are frequently recorded but rarely questioned. Recent research using data from four Cluster spacecraft orbiting the Earth has now likely found the secret: black auroras are actually anti-auroras. In normal auroras, electrons and/or predominantly negatively charged particles fall toward Earth along surfaces of constant magnetic field. They ionize the Earth's atmosphere on impact, causing the bright glows. In black anti-auroras, however, negatively charged particles are sucked out from the Earth's ionosphere along adjoining magnetic field lines. These dark anti-auroras can climb to over 20,000 kilometers and last for several minutes. Pictured above, a black aurora is seen dividing bright auroras over Fairbanks, Alaska, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 December 23 - Saturnian Aurora
Explanation: the second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn's Rings are one of the most spectacular sights for earthbound telescopes. This image from the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument, offers a striking view of another kind of ring around Saturn - pole encircling rings of ultraviolet aurora. Towering more than 1,000 miles above the cloud tops, these Saturnian auroral displays are analogous to Earth's. Energetic charged particles in the Solar Wind are funneled by the planet's magnetic field into polar regions where they interact with atmospheric gases. Following the ebb and flow of Saturn's aurora, researchers can remotely explore the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. In this false color image, the dramatic red aurora identify emission from atomic hydrogen, while the more concentrated white areas are due to hydrogen molecules. In 2004, NASA plans to begin making close-up studies of the Saturnian system with the Cassini Spacecraft.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 December 3 - Dueling Auroras
Explanation: Will it be curtains for one of these auroras? A quick inspection indicates that it is curtains for both, as the designation "curtains" well categorizes the type of aurora pattern pictured. Another (informal) type is the corona. The above auroras resulted from outbursts of ionic particles from the Sun during the last week of September. A polarity change in the solar magnetic field at the Earth then triggered auroras over the next few days. The above picture was taken on October 3 as fleeting space radiation pelted the Earth's atmosphere high above the Yukon in Canada.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 November 14 - Auroras Over Both Earth Poles
Explanation: Auroras in the north and south can be nearly mirror images of each other. Such mirroring had been suspected for centuries but dramatically confirmed only last month by detailed images from NASA's orbiting Polar spacecraft. Pictured above, a time-lapse movie shows simultaneous changes in aurora borealis, at the top, and aurora australis, at the bottom. A cloud of electrons and ions moving out from the Sun on October 22 created the auroras. The solar explosion that released the particles occurred about three days earlier.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 November 5 - Aurora Over Winnipeg
Explanation: What's happening above that city? The city is Winnipeg, Canada, and the phenomenon is aurora. These past few months have been active ones for our Sun, producing several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) of particles that have swept past our Earth and caused many spectacular auroras. Specifically in this case, a CME that occurred on October 9 impacted the Earth on October 11 and 12, causing nearly 12 hours of auroras. The above-pictured aurora had to be very bright to be seen over the lights of Winnipeg, the city well below and in front of the cascading atmospheric airglow. Lights reflecting off of a slight haze cause an unrelated glow that emanates from some of the buildings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 8 - A Yukon Aurora
Explanation: Last week was another good week for auroras. The story began about two weeks ago when two large Coronal Mass Ejections exploded off the Sun. Waves of elementary particles and ions swept out past the Earth on September 28 and 29, causing many auroras. A week ago, a flapping sheet that divides north and south regions of the Sun's magnetic field passed the Earth, again causing auroras. Pictured above is a particularly good image of one of the October 1 northern lights. Taken in Canada's Yukon, the city lights of Whitehorse are seen below dark clouds and a twisting green aurora.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 April 6 - Aurora Over New Zealand
Explanation: Last weekend skygazers at middle and high latitudes around the globe were treated to expansive auroral displays as a magnetic storm raged around planet Earth. The storm was triggered by a solar coronal mass ejection associated with the giant sunspot group cataloged as active region number 9393. For example, pictured here in the early morning hours of April 1, the skies over New Zealand are alive with "southern lights". In the wide-angle time exposure, a towering red aurora is visible suspended above the foreground of a well lit lumber yard, train station, church steeple and buildings of the city of Dunedin. On April 2, the largest solar flare of the last 25 years also erupted near active region 9393, but because of its position near the Sun's edge the effects were largely directed away from our fair planet. However, all the recent solar activity underscores the fact that the solar maximum is still with us.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 April 2 - Aurora Over Clouds
Explanation: Aurorae usually occur high above the clouds. The auroral glow is created when fast-moving particles ejected from the Sun impact air molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. An oxygen molecule, for example, will glow in a green light when reacquiring an electron lost during a collision with a solar particle. The lowest part of an aurora will typically occur at 100 kilometers up, while most clouds usually exist only below about 10 kilometers. The relative heights of clouds and aurorae are shown clearly in the above picture from Iceland, where aurorae are relatively common. Over the past weekend, one of the largest sunspot groups ever recorded has been associated with explosive solar activity and expansive terrestrial aurora displays. Although in Earth's northern hemisphere aurorae are usually seen only in the far north, these aurorae were so prevalent they were imaged by a continuous nighttime camera operating in southern Arizona!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 March 29 - Aurora Alaskan Style
Explanation: Have you checked the space weather report lately? With a coronal mass ejection (CME) headed our way and an immense sunspot group tracking across the solar photosphere, skygazers should be on the alert. The interaction of clouds of energetic particles from the active Sun with planet Earth's magnetosphere often produces significant geomagnetic storms and auroral displays. In fact, just days ago on March 24, photographer Jan Curtis pointed his camera straight up to captured this awesome auroral curtain towering in clear and very cold (-25F) skies over Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. Now, forecasts indicate that a recent Earth-directed CME may also trigger moderate geomagnetic storms over the next few days. Night sky aurora, possibly extending to middle latitudes, would be most likely on March 30-31.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 February 10 - Aurora Astern
Explanation: Sailing upside down, 115 nautical miles above Earth, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour made this spectacular time exposure of the southern aurora (aurora australis) in October of 1994. Aurora, also known as the northern and southern lights, appear as luminous bands or streamers of light which can extend to altitudes of 200 miles. They are typically visible from the Earth's surface at high latitudes and are triggered by high energy particles from the Sun. The delicate colors are caused by energetic electrons colliding with oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere. In this picture, the rear structure of the shuttle Endeavour is in the foreground with the vertical tail fin pointed toward Earth. Star trails are the short streaks above Earth's horizon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 19 - A Close Up of Aurora on Jupiter
Explanation: Jupiter has aurorae. Like Earth, the magnetic field of the gas giant funnels charged particles released from the Sun onto the poles. As these particles strike the atmosphere, electrons are temporarily knocked away from existing gas molecules. Electric force attracts these electrons back. As the electrons recombine to remake neutral molecules, auroral light is emitted. In the above recently released photograph by the Hubble Space Telescope taken in ultraviolet light, the aurorae appear as annular sheets around the pole. Unlike Earth's aurorae, Jupiter's aurorae include several bright streaks and dots. These marks are caused by magnetic flux tubes connecting Jupiter to its largest moons. Specifically, Io caused the bright streak on the far left, Ganymede caused the bright dot below center, and Europa caused the dot to its right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 8 - October Skylights
Explanation: With brilliant Venus above the western horizon at sunset and Jupiter and Saturn high in the east by early evening, November's night sky is filled with bright planets. October's sky featured bright planets as well and, triggered by the active Sun, some lovely auroral displays. This colorful aurora was recorded by astrophotographer Wade Clark in skies above Hamilton, Washington, USA on the night of October 4th. Through the shimmering northern lights Jupiter and Saturn are easy to spot flanking the V-shaped head of Taurus the Bull. Of course, just above lies the lovely Pleiades star cluster. Solar activity will also produce auroral shows in November, particularly at high northern and southern latitudes. Plus, November skygazers can certainly anticipate a celestial performance on the evening of the 17th/18th -- the moonlit Leonid meteor shower.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 September 17 - Saturnian Aurora
Explanation: Girdling the second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn's Rings are one of the most spectacular sights for earthbound telescopes. This image from the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument, offers a striking view of another kind of ring around Saturn - pole encircling rings of ultraviolet aurora. Towering more than 1,000 miles above the cloud tops, these Saturnian auroral displays are analogous to Earth's. Energetic charged particles in the Solar Wind are funneled by the planet's magnetic field into polar regions where they interact with atmospheric gases. Following the ebb and flow of Saturn's aurora, researchers can remotely explore the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. In this false color image, the dramatic red aurora identify emission from atomic hydrogen, while the more concentrated white areas are due to hydrogen molecules. In 2004, NASA plans to begin making close-up studies of the Saturnian system with the Cassini Spacecraft.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 September 16 - X-Ray Earth
Explanation: Above is a picture of the Earth in x-rays, taken in March of 1996 from the orbiting Polar satellite. Most of the planet is dark with superposed continent and coordinate grids, while the bright x-ray emission near the north pole is shown in red. Why does the Earth have an x-ray glow? Actually, the Earth itself does not, but the aurora high in the Earth's atmosphere do glow with x-rays detectable by space-based instruments. Gusts of energetic ions from the Sun can distort the Earth's magnetosphere allowing high energy electrons spiraling along magnetic field lines to slam into the upper atmosphere above the magnetic poles. This activity causes shimmering visible aurora along with x-ray, ultraviolet, and radio emission. The x-rays are not dangerous to life on Earth because they are absorbed by the dense, lower atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 September 15 - Aurora In West Texas Skies
Explanation: The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are not a common sight in the southwestern United States. But a strong solar coronal mass ejection in early August triggered geomagnetic storms and aurora which were widely reported, even under west Texas skies. This striking view of the aurora was recorded from a site near El Paso, Texas and the Hueco Tanks State Historical Park at a latitude just shy of 32 degrees north. Polaris is the brightest star visible near the top and right of center while a Perseid meteor pierces the auroral glow left of picture center, below the bowl of the little dipper. Want to see an aurora? Dark skies and high latitudes (closer to the north or south poles) help. And you might keep an eye on the space weather report. The last big coronal mass ejection headed toward planet Earth was detected by space-based instruments on September 12. It may trigger geomagnetic storms and auroral activity beginning September 14th.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 September 4 - Aurora Persei
Explanation: Last month, skywatchers were treated to an unexpected coincidence: bright aurorae occurred during the Perseid Meteor Shower. The above picture was taken August 12 and captures eerie looking aurorae and a faint Perseid meteor above Cross Lake in Wisconsin, USA. The near future holds promise for both more aurorae and a better meteor shower. Aurorae are becoming increasingly common as their trigger -- our Sun -- nears its period of highest activity during its eleven-year magnetic cycle. Coming up in mid-November is the quirky Leonids Meteor Shower. Although one of the better studied meteor showers, the Leonids have surprised astronomers many times and so many an optimistic skywatcher promises to be outside this year hoping for a memorable show.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 21 - A Perseid Aurora
Explanation: Just after the Moon set but before the Sun rose in the early morning hours of August 12, meteors pelted the Earth from the direction of the constellation Perseus, while ions pelted the Earth from the Sun. The meteors were expected as sub-sand grains long left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle annually create the Perseids Meteor Shower. The aurorae were unexpected, however, as electrons, protons, and heavier ions raced out from a large Coronal Mass Ejection that had occurred just days before on the Sun. In the foreground is Hahn's Peak, an extinct volcano in Colorado, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 17 - Mount Megantic Magnetic Storm
Explanation: Plasma from the Sun and debris from a comet both collided with planet Earth last Saturday morning triggering magnetic storms and a meteor shower in a dazzling atmospheric spectacle. The debris stream from comet Swift-Tuttle is anticipated yearly, and many skygazers already planned to watch the peak of the annual Perseids meteor shower in the dark hours of August 11/12. But the simultaneous, widely reported auroras were triggered by the chance arrival of something much less predictable -- a solar coronal mass ejection. This massive bubble of energetic plasma was seen leaving the active Sun's surface on August 9, just in time to travel to Earth and disrupt the planet's magnetic field triggering extensive auroras during the meteor shower's peak! Inspired by the cosmic light show, Sebastien Gauthier photographed the colorful auroral displays above the dramatic dome of the Mount-Megantic Popular Observatory in southern Quebec, Canada. Bright Jupiter and giant star Aldebaran can be seen peering through the shimmering northern lights at the upper right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 May 19 - An Aurora Before the Storm
Explanation: Early April brought some of the most intense auroral storms this decade. An aurora on April 6 was reported to be the largest visible on Earth since 1989, and was seen throughout Europe and much of northern North America. On that day, many skywatchers expecting to see a rare alignment of planets were treated to a additional treat. Many reported aurorae with a relatively unusual red color. The above aurora recorded at dusk over Alaska sported the more typical green glow. A huge auroral ring can be seen superposed above trees and a building. Auroral activity occurs high in the Earth's atmosphere and is a direct result of storms on our Sun. As huge sheets of charged particles stream out from the Sun, a small fraction of these particles are funneled in by Earth's magnetic field and strike atoms high in the atmosphere, causing the sky to glow. The particles are harmless to people on Earth's surface, but can cause havoc on satellites in orbit far above.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 April 10 - Aurora in Red and Yellow
Explanation: The past week brought some spectacular aurora to northern skies. These aurorae were caused by a large interplanetary shock wave that exploded from the Sun on April 4. When the shock wave reached the Earth on April 6, the resulting aurora could be seen in clear skies as far south as North Carolina. As the aurorae occurred high in the Earth's atmosphere, they were accompanied by an unusual alignment of planets far in the background. Pictured above that night, an unusual multicolored auroral display graced the skies above the domes of the Brno Observatory in the Czech Republic.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 23, 1999 - Unusual Aurora During Solar Wind Dropout
Explanation: On May 10, for some unknown reason, the Solar Wind virtually stopped. Normally our Sun emits a wind of between five and ten energetic particles per cubic centimeter moving outward at about 500 kilometers per second. Late on May 10, however, this gale was reduced to a mere breeze of one particle per every five cubic centimeters. The Sun's Corona was suddenly able to flow out into the Solar System relatively unimpeded, creating beams of energetic electrons. One such beam apparently reached Earth's North Magnetic Pole, and was seen as the unusual X-ray aurora digitally reconstructed in the above false-color image. Our atmosphere absorbed the electrons. This display gave direct evidence, however, that Earth's North Magnetic Pole was connected to the Sun, while the Earth's South Magnetic Pole connected to the distant Solar System. The Solar Wind returned to normal on May 12.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 2, 1999 - Aurora Through a Moonlit Sky
Explanation: A night sky can glow in fascinating ways. Through a clearing in the woods, the pictured sky above Alaska shines by reflected light from a nearby city, by the brightness of the Moon, and by aurora. The night sky in or near a city appears to contain relatively few stars because lights there reflect off atmospheric particles, hiding stars in a diffuse glow. The bright Moon also creates a diffuse sky glow, although much less bright than the analogous blue-sky glow created during the day by the Sun. Particles from the Sun crashing into the Earth's atmosphere are seen here as bands of aurora. These glows also illuminate visible clouds. Auroral displays are becoming more frequent as the Sun approaches Solar Maximum.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 20, 1999 - Aurora and Orion
Explanation: Looking toward the south from low Earth orbit, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor made this stunning time exposure of the Aurora Australis or southern lights in April of 1994. Aurora are visible at high northern latitudes as well, with the northern lights known as Aurora Borealis. They are caused by high energy electrons from the Solar Wind which are funneled into the atmosphere near the poles by the Earth's magnetic field. The reddish colors occur at the highest altitudes (about 200 miles) where the air is least dense. At lower altitudes and greater densities green tends to dominate ranging to a pinkish glow at the lowest. The familiar constellation of Orion the Hunter is clearly visible above the dark horizon in the background. Because of the shuttle's orbital motion, the bright stars in Orion appear slightly elongated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 23, 1999 - Saturnian Aurora
Explanation: Girdling the second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn's Rings are one of the most spectacular sights for earthbound telescopes. This image from the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument, offers a striking view of another kind of ring around Saturn - pole encircling rings of ultraviolet aurora. Towering more than 1,000 miles above the cloud tops, these Saturnian auroral displays are analogous to Earth's. Energetic charged particles in the Solar Wind are funneled by the planet's magnetic field into polar regions where they interact with atmospheric gases. Following the ebb and flow of Saturn's aurora, researchers can remotely explore the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. In this false color image, the dramatic red aurora identify emission from atomic hydrogen, while the more concentrated white areas are due to hydrogen molecules. In 2004, NASA plans to begin making close-up studies of the Saturnian system with the Cassini Spacecraft.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 11, 1998 - Aurora Above
Explanation: On some nights the sky is the most interesting show in town. This picture captures a particularly active and colorful display of aurora that occurred a month ago high above Alaska. Auroras are more commonly seen by observers located near the Earth's poles. Aurora light results from solar electrons and protons striking molecules high in the Earth's atmosphere. Planetary aurora activity can sometimes be predicted after particularly active solar coronal mass ejections.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 21, 1998 - The Case of the Missing Aurora
Explanation: Sometimes, near midnight, auroras suddenly stop. Nobody knows why. This nightside gap in aurora was confirmed recently by D. Chua (U. Washington) and colleagues in data from the Ultraviolet Imager onboard the Polar spacecraft. The gap appears from space as a slight break in a more full auroral arc surrounding a magnetic pole of the Earth. Pictured above are clouds and auroras occurring last August near Wildcat Mountain in Wisconsin.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 16, 1998 - Io Aurora
Explanation: Alluring aurora surrounding Io (eye-oh) appear as a ghostly glow while the volcanic moon orbits within Jupiter's dark shadow. Gas giant Jupiter is off to the right of this image, recorded in May by the robot Galileo spacecraft's solid state imaging camera from a distance of about 1.3 million kilometers. Energetic charged particles colliding with Io's atmospheric gases create the vivid colors and produce the red and green glow analogous to the aurora of Earth. The striking blue light is caused by dense volcanic plumes and may indicate regions electrically connected to Jupiter itself.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 1, 1998 - A Colorful Aurora
Explanation: A solar storm overtook the Earth on August 26th. The Earth survived unscathed, as usual, although many northerners reported an impressive display of aurora. Many of these auroras changed rapidly, with patterns appearing and disappearing sometimes in less than a second. Out away from city lights, observers also reported an unusually spectacular array of colors. Some of these colors were captured in the photograph above. Solar particles that strike oxygen high in Earth's atmosphere cause rare, red auroras, while oxygen lower to the ground will glow a more familiar green. Ionized nitrogen glows blue or red.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 18, 1998 - NGC 6369: A Donut Shaped Nebula
Explanation: Why isn't the star in the center of the nebula? NGC 6369 appears to be a fairly ordinary planetary nebula. It can be seen with a good telescope in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The gas expelled by the central star is bunched in the shape of a donut or cylinder. During the planetary nebula phase, the central star sheds its outer atmosphere as it is evolving to become a white dwarf star. The above image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. A closer look at NGC 6369 indicates that the central star is closer to a dimmer edge of the nebula than to the opposing brighter edge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 5, 1998 - Aurora at Midnight
Explanation: What's happening behind those trees? Aurora. This picture was taken at midnight near Fairbanks, Alaska, and captures familiar trees, common clouds, and a glowing sky markedly different than a sunset. Particularly strange is the green auroral ring caused by ionized oxygen high in the Earth's atmosphere. The small water droplets composing clouds reflect and absorb aurora light, giving clouds a reddish tinge. The above picture was taken on September 20th of last year. In the next few years the Sun will reach the most active part of its 11 year cycle, meaning more puffs of high energy solar particles will be released, and more spectacular auroras will occur when these particles strike the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 4, 1998 - Aurora Over Alaska
Explanation: Higher than the highest mountain, higher than the highest airplane, lies the realm of the aurora. Aurora rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from solar electrons and protons striking molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Frequently, when viewed from space, a complete aurora will appear as a circle around one of the Earth's magnetic poles. The above photograph was taken in January in Alaska and shows a spectacular aurora borealis above a frozen landscape which includes spruce trees and the photographer's truck. The picture had to be taken quickly as the temperature was below -40 degrees.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 22, 1998 - Southern Lights and Shuttle Glow
Explanation: A background of distant stars, sinuous and spiky bands of Southern Lights (Aurora Australis), and the faint glow of charged plasma (ionized atomic gas) surrounding the Space Shuttle Discovery's engines give this photo from the STS-39 mission an eerie, otherworldly look. This image reflects Discovery's April 1991 mission well - its payload bay (PLB) was filled with instruments designed to study celestial objects, aurora and atmospheric phenomena, and the low Earth orbit environment around the PLB itself. The aurora seen here are at a height of about 50-80 miles. Aurora are caused by charged particles in the solar wind, channeled through the Earth's magnetic field which excite molecules in the upper atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 23, 1998 - Jovian Aurora
Explanation: These two recently released Hubble Space Telescope close-ups show the Northern and Southern lights ... on Jupiter. Like aurora on Earth, these Jovian aurora are caused by charged particles funneled into the atmosphere above the planet's North (right) and South poles by magnetic fields. But Jupiter's magnetic field is extremely large and ionized material expelled from the volcanic moon Io is trapped in it creating light shows 1,000 times more intense than Earth's auroral storms. Charged particles released by Io are also funneled along magnetic flux tubes which form a direct "bridge" to the Jovian atmosphere. The result is auroral hot spots - magnetic footprints 600 or more miles across which race over Jupiter's cloud tops. A hot spot is visible in both images as a comet-like feature just outside the polar auroral rings. In these false color ultraviolet images, Jupiter's limb (edge) appears dull brown while the auroral displays are shades of white and blue.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 9, 1998 - Saturnian Aurora
Explanation: Girdling the second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn's Rings are one of the most spectacular sights for earthbound telescopes. This recently released image, from the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument, offers a striking view of another kind of ring around Saturn - pole encircling rings of ultraviolet aurora. Towering more than 1,000 miles above the cloud tops, these Saturnian auroral displays are analogous to Earth's. Energetic charged particles in the Solar Wind are funneled by the planet's magnetic field into polar regions where they interact with atmospheric gases. Following the ebb and flow of Saturn's aurora, researchers can remotely explore the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. In this false color image, the dramatic red aurora identify emission from atomic hydrogen, while the more concentrated white areas are due to hydrogen molecules. In 2004, NASA plans to begin making close-up studies of the Saturnian system with the Cassini Spacecraft.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 9, 1997 - An Auroral Ring on Jupiter
Explanation: Do other planets have aurora? Terrestrial and spacecraft observations have found evidence for aurora on Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. In the above false-color photograph, a good portion of an auroral ring was captured recently in optical light by the Galileo spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter. Auroral rings encircle a planet's magnetic pole, and result from charged particles spiraling down magnetic field lines. Although the surroundings near Jupiter are much different than Earth, the auroral rings appear similar.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 21, 1997 - Big Sky Comet
Explanation: On April 17th, "Big Sky" country sure lived up to its name. The dark skies over the US states of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas were quite busy, as shown by this photograph featuring Comet Hale-Bopp. In the foreground is the Absaroka Mountain Range in Wyoming, lit by reflected moonlight. Just to the left of Jim Mountain's peak is Comet Hale-Bopp. The unusual colors visible on the far right are aurora, remnants of the recent solar storm recorded on the Sun. Across the middle of the photo are numerous bright stars, and across the top of the picture are clouds.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 18, 1997 - Solar Storm Causes X-Ray Aurora
Explanation: On April 7, the SOHO spacecraft spotted a Solar Storm ejecting a cloud of energetic particles toward planet Earth. The plasma cloud's center missed Earth, but high energy particles swept up by Earth's magnetosphere still created a geomagnetic storm! Residents of northerly lattitudes were treated to the spectacle of brilliant aurora as curtains of green and white light danced across the sky. In this image from April 11, the Polar Ionospheric X-ray Imaging Experiment (PIXIE) onboard NASA's orbiting POLAR spacecraft records the strongest X-ray aurora seen in more than a year of operation. The false color image overlaying a map of North America reveals X-rays generated in the upper atmosphere by showers of high energy electrons.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 11, 1997 - The Sun Puffs
Explanation: The Earth has once again endured a burst of particles from the Sun. The latest storm, which began Monday, was one of the best documented solar storms to date. At 10 am (EDT) ground monitors of the SOHO spacecraft, which continually monitors the Sun, noticed a weak spot in the solar corona was buckling again, this time letting loose a large, explosive Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Almost simultaneously, NASA's WIND spacecraft began detecting bursts of radio waves from electrons involved in this magnetic storm. Supersonic waves rippled though the solar corona as a puff of high energy gas shot out into the Solar System. The above image shows two photographs of the Sun taken about 15 minutes apart and subtracted, highlighting the explosion. The CME gas will have little lasting effect on the Earth, but might make this a good weekend to see an aurora.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 2, 1997 - A Complete Aurora
Explanation: Aurora frequently make complete rings around a pole of the Earth. This particular "crown", visible in orange near the top of this image, was taken by the orbiting Polar spacecraft about one year ago and released by NASA last month. A complete auroral oval is normally hard to photograph because part of it usually occurs over a brightly sunlit portion of the Earth. Polar's Earth Camera, however, can be programmed to filter out all but a certain type of ultraviolet light. In this "color", atmospheric oxygen can glow brighter than reflected sunlight. People with normal eyesight living near the Great Lakes in North America would have been able to see this aurora, were it not daytime!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 26, 1997 - Aurora and Orion
Explanation: Looking toward the south from low Earth orbit, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor made this stunning time exposure of the Aurora Australis or southern lights in April of 1994. Aurora are visible at high northern latitudes as well, with the northern lights known as Aurora Borealis. They are caused by high energy electrons from the Solar Wind which are funneled into the atmosphere near the poles by the Earth's magnetic field. The reddish colors occur at the highest altitudes (about 200 miles) where the air is least dense. At lower altitudes and greater densities green tends to dominate ranging to a pinkish glow at the lowest. The familiar constellation of Orion the Hunter is clearly visible above the dark horizon in the background. Because of the shuttle's orbital motion, the bright stars in Orion appear slightly elongated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 9, 1997 - Hazing Jupiter
Explanation: A dramatic mosaic of recent images from the Galileo spacecraft reveals details of swirling clouds and a thick stratospheric haze in the atmosphere of Jupiter, the Solar System's largest planet. This false color representation is keyed to altitude - red indicates cloud features near the top of the gas giant's extensive atmosphere while blue corresponds to features at depth. North is up in the mosaic, centered at about 50 degrees northern Jovian latitude, and the limb or edge of the planet arcs across the upper right. The line of sight looking toward the limb emphasizes the high altitude, red haze. What causes the red haze? It may well be created as energetic electrons and other charged particles swept up by Jupiter's magnetosphere are funneled along magnetic field lines and bombard the atmosphere near the polar regions. Charged magnetospheric particles can also create Aurora.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 7, 1997 - Red Sun Streaming
Explanation: The Sun is leaking. In fact, it is gushing: particles stream away from the Sun at hundreds of kilometers per second. Some of these particles strike the Earth and cause aurora. Most particles, however, either surround the Sun as a huge solar corona or glide into interstellar space as the solar wind. Don't worry about the Sun totally evaporating - it loses too little mass to have any lasting effect. The above false-color picture was taken with the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronograph on board the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). This instruments blocks out the central solar disk so it can image the regions surrounding the Sun. The large streamers visible are typical. Where these charged ions get their enormous streaming energy is still a mystery!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 1, 1997 - Aurora Over Circle, Alaska
Explanation: Aurora can make spectacular sights. This particular aurora was photographed hovering over the town of Circle, Alaska. Although Aurora might first appear to be moonlit clouds, they only add light to the sky, and hence can not block background stars from view. Called "northern lights" in the northern hemisphere of the Earth, aurora are caused by charged particles streaming from the Sun entering the Earth's atmosphere. If viewed from space, aurora glow in X-ray light as well as in the visible! Several WWW sites can tell you if aurora are predicted to be visible in your area.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 30, 1996 - X-Ray Earth
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.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 30, 1996 - Aurora Astern
Explanation: Sailing upside down, 115 nautical miles above Earth, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour made this spectacular time exposure of the southern aurora (aurora australis) in October of 1994. The aurora, also known as the northern and southern lights, appear as luminous bands or streamers of light which can extend to altitudes of 200 miles. They are typically visible from the Earth's surface at high latitudes and are caused by high energy particles from the Sun. The delicate colors are caused by energetic electrons colliding with oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere. In this picture, the rear structure of the Space Shuttle is visible in the foreground with the vertical tail fin pointed toward Earth. Star trails are visible as small streaks above Earth's horizon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 27, 1996 - Io's Active Volcanoes
Explanation: Why is Io green at night? In this just-released nighttime picture of Jupiter's moon Io, the red spots clearly show Io's current volcanically active regions. But what is causing the global green sheen? This telling picture was taken by the automated Galileo spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter while Io was in Jupiter's shadow. One hypothesis is that the green glow is caused by a different type of aurora resulting from high-energy particles interacting with Io's volcanic plumes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 19, 1996 - Aurora: Curtains in the Sky
Explanation: Looking out over Lake Superior at dusk you see Venus (lower left) and ... curtains? Like an ant looking up at window curtains, aurora frequently appear as huge flowing light displays. These colorful, often spectacular phenomena are most frequently visible from locations near the Earth's poles. Aurora are caused by electrons from the solar wind funneling to Earth along magnetic field lines, and striking atoms and molecules in our atmosphere. Auroral color is determined by which atmospheric ions are struck and recombine to form neutral atoms. Hourly updates of auroral sightings are posted to the WWW. It is still controversial whether aurora make any sound audible from the ground. If you think you have "heard an aurora," please report it!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 10, 1996 - Ultraviolet Earth
Explanation: Here's a switch: the above picture is of the Earth taken from a lunar observatory! This false color picture shows how the Earth glows in ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light is so blue humans can't see it. Very little UV light is transmitted through the Earth's atmosphere but what sunlight does make it through can cause a sunburn. The Far UV Camera / Spectrograph deployed and left on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 16 took the above picture. The part of the Earth facing the Sun reflects much UV light, but perhaps more interesting is the side facing away from the Sun. Here bands of UV emission are also apparent. These bands are the result of aurora and are caused by charged particles expelled by the Sun spiraling to Earth along magnetic field lines.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 27, 1996 - Aurora Crown the Earth
Explanation: What do aurora look like from space? The POLAR spacecraft answered this by photographing an auroral oval surrounding the north pole of the Earth, causing displays on both the night and day side. The auroral sub-storm, pictured in false-color above, developed within 15 minutes and may have lasted as long as on hour. Aurora are caused by charged particles streaming away from the Sun and towards the Earth. As the particles fall to Earth, they spiral along magnetic field lines and cause colorful radiation. The UVI experiment onboard the POLAR spacecraft is equipped with special filters that allow it to see aurora in a band of ultraviolet light where sunlight is relatively dim. The more red the emission depicted in the above photo, the more intense the radiation. Earth's continents have been drawn in for clarity

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 6, 1996 - Southern Lights and Shuttle Glow
Explanation: A background of distant stars, sinuous and spiky bands of Southern Lights (Aurora Australis), and the faint glow of charged plasma (ionized atomic gas) surrounding the Space Shuttle Discovery's engines give this photo from the STS-39 mission an eerie, otherworldly look. This image reflects Discovery's April 1991 mission well - its payload bay (PLB) was filled with instruments designed to study celestial objects, aurora and atmospheric phenomena, and the low Earth orbit environment around the PLB itself. The aurora seen here are at a height of about 50-80 miles and caused by charged particles in the solar wind, channeled through the van Allen Radiation Belts which excite atoms of oxygen in the upper atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 14, 1995 - Aurora and Orion
Explanation: Looking toward the south from low Earth orbit, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor made this stunning time exposure of the Aurora Australis (southern lights) in April of 1994. The aurora are caused by high energy electrons from the Solar Wind which are funneled into the atmosphere by the Earth's magnetic field. The reddish colors occur at the highest altitudes (about 200 miles) where the air is least dense. At lower altitudes and greater densities green tends to dominate. At the lowest altitudes a pinkish glow is sometimes produced. The familiar constellation of Orion the Hunter is clearly visible above the dark horizon in the background. Because of the shuttle's orbital motion, the bright stars in Orion appear slightly elongated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 26, 1995 - Aurora Astern
Explanation: Sailing upside down, 115 nautical miles above Earth, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour made this spectacular time exposure of the southern aurora (aurora australis) in October of 1994. The aurora, also known as the northern and southern lights, appear as luminous bands or streamers of light which can extend to altitudes of 200 miles. They are typically visible from the Earth's surface at high latitudes and are caused by high energy particles from the Sun. The delicate colors are caused by energetic electrons colliding with oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere. In this picture, the rear structure of the Space Shuttle is visible in the foreground with the vertical tail fin pointed toward Earth. Star trails are visible as small streaks above Earth's horizon.


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