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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Search Results for "Earth"




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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 March 24 – Looking Back at an Eclipsed Earth
Explanation: Here is what the Earth looks like during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moved across the Earth at nearly 2000 kilometers per hour. Only observers near the center of the dark circle see a total solar eclipse - others see a partial eclipse where only part of the Sun appears blocked by the Moon. This spectacular picture of the 1999 August 11 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station. The two bright spots that appear on the upper left are thought to be Jupiter and Saturn. Mir was deorbited in a controlled re-entry in 2001. A new solar eclipse will occur over North America in about two weeks.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 24 – Earth and Moon from Beyond
Explanation: What do the Earth and Moon look like from beyond the Moon? Although frequently photographed together, the familiar duo was captured with this unusual perspective in late 2022 by the robotic Orion spacecraft of NASA's Artemis I mission as it looped around Earth's most massive satellite and looked back toward its home world. Since our Earth is about four times the diameter of the Moon, the satellite’s seemingly large size was caused by the capsule being closer to the smaller body. Artemis II, the next launch in NASA’s Artemis series, is currently scheduled to take people around the Moon in 2025, while Artemis III is planned to return humans to lunar surface in late 2026. Last week, JAXA's robotic SLIM spacecraft, launched from Japan, landed on the Moon and released two hopping rovers.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 December 5 – Energetic Particle Strikes the Earth
Explanation: It was one of the most energetic particles ever known to strike the Earth -- but where did it come from? Dubbed Amaterasu after the Shinto sun goddess, this particle, as do all cosmic rays that strike the Earth's atmosphere, caused an air shower of electrons, protons, and other elementary particles to spray down onto the Earth below. In the featured illustration, a cosmic ray air shower is pictured striking the Telescope Array in Utah, USA, which recorded the Amaterasu event in 2021 May. Cosmic ray air showers are common enough that you likely have been in a particle spray yourself, although you likely wouldn't have noticed. The origin of this energetic particle, likely the nucleus of an atom, remains a mystery in two ways. First, it is not known how any single particle or atomic nucleus can practically acquire so much energy, and second, attempts to trace the particle back to where it originated did not indicate any likely potential source.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 17 - Planet Earth at Night II
Explanation: Recorded during 2017, timelapse sequences from the International Space Station are compiled in this serene video of planet Earth at Night. Fans of low Earth orbit can start by enjoying the view as green and red aurora borealis slather up the sky. The night scene tracks from northwest to southeast across North America, toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida coast. A second sequence follows European city lights, crosses the Mediterranean Sea, and passes over a bright Nile river in northern Africa. Seen from the orbital outpost, erratic flashes of lightning appear in thunder storms below and stars rise above the planet's curved horizon through a faint atmospheric airglow. Of course, from home you can always check out the vital signs of Planet Earth Now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 12 – The Largest Satellites of Earth
Explanation: What’s that near the Moon? It’s the International Space Station (ISS). Although the ISS may appear to be physically near the Moon, it is not — it is physically near the Earth. In low Earth orbit and circulating around our big blue marble about every 90 minutes, the ISS was captured photographically as it crossed nearly in front of the Moon. The Moon, itself in a month-long orbit around the Earth, shows a crescent phase as only a curving sliver of its Sun-illuminated half is visible from the Earth. The featured image was taken in late March from Shanghai, China and shows not only details of Earth's largest human-made satellite, but details of the cratered and barren surface of Earth's largest natural satellite. Over the next few years, humanity is planning to send more people and machines to the Moon than ever before.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 13 - Apollo 17: The Crescent Earth
Explanation: Our fair planet sports a curved, sunlit crescent against the black backdrop of space in this stunning photograph. From the unfamiliar perspective, the Earth is small and, like a telescopic image of a distant planet, the entire horizon is completely within the field of view. Enjoyed by crews on board the International Space Station, only much closer views of the planet are possible from low Earth orbit. Orbiting the planet once every 90 minutes, a spectacle of clouds, oceans, and continents scrolls beneath them with the partial arc of the planet's edge in the distance. But this digitally restored image presents a view so far only achieved by 24 humans, Apollo astronauts who traveled to the Moon and back again between 1968 and 1972. The original photograph, AS17-152-23420, was taken by the homeward bound crew of Apollo 17, on December 17, 1972. For now it is the last picture of Earth from this planetary perspective taken by human hands.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 9 – Shadows of Earth
Explanation: Can you find two Earth shadows in today's image? It's a bit tricky. To find the first shadow, observe that the top part of the atmosphere appears pink and the lower part appears blue. This is because the top half is exposed to direct sunlight, while the lower part is not. The purple area in between is known as the Belt of Venus, even though Venus can only appear on the other side of the sky, near the Sun. The blue color of the lower atmosphere is caused by the Earth blocking sunlight, creating Earth shadow number 1. Now, where is the second Earth shadow? Take a look at the Moon. Do you notice something unusual about the lower left part? That area appears unusually dark because it is in the shadow of the Earth, creating Earth shadow number 2. To be precise, the Moon was captured during a lunar eclipse. This carefully timed image was taken in Sampieri, Sicily, Italy, in July 2018.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 January 24 – LHS 475 b: Earth Sized Exoplanet
Explanation: If you could stand on exoplanet LHS 475 b, what might you see? No one knows for sure but pictured here is an interesting guess made by an Earth-based artificial intelligence (AI) engine. The existence of the exoplanet was indicated in data taken by the Earth-orbiting TESS satellite but confirmed and further investigated only this year by the near-Earth Sun-orbiting James Webb Space Telescope. What is known for sure is that LHS 475 b has a mass very similar to our Earth and closely orbits a small red star about 40 light years away. The featured AI-illustrated guess depicts a plausibly rugged Earth-like landscape replete with molten lava and with the central red star rising in the distance. Webb data does not as yet reveal, however, whether LHS 475 b has an atmosphere. One of Webb’s science objectives is to follow up previous discoveries of distant exoplanets to better discern their potential for developing life.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 September 26 - All the Water on Planet Earth
Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth's surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth's radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth's Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn's moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. The next smallest ball depicts all of Earth's liquid fresh water, while the tiniest ball shows the volume of all of Earth's fresh-water lakes and rivers. How any of this water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth's surface remain topics of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 August 22 - Earth's Recent Climate Spiral
Explanation: Is our Earth warming? Compared to the past 250 million years, the Earth is currently enduring a relative cold spell, possibly about four degrees Celsius below average. Over the past 120 years, though, data indicate that the average global temperature of the Earth has increased by nearly one degree Celsius. The featured visualization video depicts Earth's recent global warming in graphic terms. The depicted temperatures are taken from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies' Surface Temperature Analysis. Already noticeable by many, Earth's recent warming trend is causing sea levels to rise, precipitation patterns to change, and pole ice to melt. Few now disagree that recent global warming is occurring, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that we humans have created a warming surge that is likely to continue. A continuation could impact many local agricultures and even the global economy. Although there seems to be no simple solutions, geoengineering projects that might help include artificial cloud creation to reduce the amount of sunlight heating the Earth's surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 August 9 - Leaving Earth
Explanation: What it would look like to leave planet Earth? Such an event was recorded visually in great detail by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it swung back past the Earth in 2005 on its way in toward the planet Mercury. Earth can be seen rotating in this time-lapse video, as it recedes into the distance. The sunlit half of Earth is so bright that background stars are not visible. The robotic MESSENGER spacecraft orbit around Mercury from 2011 to 2015 has conducted the first complete map of the surface. On occasion, MESSENGER has continued to peer back at its home world. MESSENGER is one of the few things created on the Earth that will never return. At the end of its mission MESSENGER crashed into Mercury's surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 April 22 - Planet Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture was taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles. Of course from home, you can check out the Earth Now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 April 17 - Shuttle Over Earth
Explanation: What's that approaching? Astronauts on board the International Space Station in 2010 first saw it far in the distance. Soon it enlarged to become a dark silhouette. As it came even closer, the silhouette appeared to be a spaceship. Finally, the object revealed itself to be the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and it soon docked as expected with the Earth-orbiting space station. Pictured here, Endeavour was imaged near Earth's horizon as it approached, where several layers of the Earth's atmosphere were visible. Directly behind the shuttle is the mesosphere, which appears blue. The atmospheric layer that appears white is the stratosphere, while the orange layer is Earth's Troposphere. Together, these thin layers of air -- collectively spanning less than 2 percent of Earth's radius -- sustain us all in many ways, including providing oxygen to breath and a barrier to dangerous radiations from space.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 13 - Earth at Night
Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The featured image, nicknamed Black Marble, is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures remade in 2016 from data taken by the orbiting Suomi NPP satellite.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 6 - Blue Marble Earth
Explanation: Welcome to planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. The featured picture of Earth, dubbed The Blue Marble, was taken from Apollo 17 in 1972 and features Africa and Antarctica. It is thought to be one of the most widely distributed photographs of any kind. Earth has a single large Moon that is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 December 26 - James Webb Space Telescope over Earth
Explanation: There's a big new telescope in space. This one, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), not only has a mirror over five times larger than Hubble's in area, but can see better in infrared light. The featured picture shows JWST high above the Earth just after being released by the upper stage of an Ariane V rocket, launched yesterday from French Guiana. Over the next month, JWST will move out near the Sun-Earth L2 point where it will co-orbit the Sun with the Earth. During this time and for the next five months, JWST will unravel its segmented mirror and an array of sophisticated scientific instruments -- and test them. If all goes well, JWST will start examining galaxies across the universe and planets orbiting stars across our Milky Way Galaxy in the summer of 2022.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 September 22 - Equinox on a Spinning Earth
Explanation: When does the line between night and day become vertical? Today. Today is an equinox on planet Earth, a time of year when day and night are most nearly equal. At an equinox, the Earth's terminator -- the dividing line between day and night -- becomes vertical and connects the north and south poles. The featured time-lapse video demonstrates this by displaying an entire year on planet Earth in twelve seconds. From geosynchronous orbit, the Meteosat 9 satellite recorded these infrared images of the Earth every day at the same local time. The video started at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator line being vertical. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the terminator was seen to tilt in a way that provides less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, causing winter in the north. As the year progressed, the March 2011 equinox arrived halfway through the video, followed by the terminator tilting the other way, causing winter in the southern hemisphere -- and summer in the north. The captured year ends again with the September equinox, concluding another of billions of trips the Earth has taken -- and will take -- around the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 September 15 - Cyclone Paths on Planet Earth
Explanation: Where on Earth do cyclones go? Usually known as hurricanes when in the Atlantic Ocean and typhoons when in the Pacific, the featured map shows the path of all major storms from 1985 through 2005. The map shows graphically that cyclones usually occur over water, which makes sense since evaporating warm water gives them energy. The map also shows that cyclones never cross -- and rarely approach -- the Earth's equator, since the Coriolis effect goes to zero there, and cyclones need the Coriolis force to circulate. The Coriolis force also causes cyclone paths to arc away from the equator. Although long-term trends remain a topic of research, evidence indicates that hurricanes have become, on the average, more powerful in the North Atlantic over the past 30 years, and their power is projected to keep increasing.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 September 5 - Earth and Moon
Explanation: The Earth and Moon are rarely photographed together. One of most spectacular times this occurred was about 30 years ago when the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft zoomed past our home planetary system. Then, robotic Galileo watched from about 15-times the Earth-Moon separation as our only natural satellite glided past our home world. The featured video combines 52 historic color-enhanced images. Although our Moon may appear small next to the Earth, no other planet in our Solar System has a satellite so comparable in size . The Sun, far off to the right, illuminated about half of each sphere, and shows the spinning Earth's white clouds, blue oceans, and tan continents.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 3 - Apollo 11: Earth, Moon, Spaceship
Explanation: After the most famous voyage of modern times, it was time to go home. After proving that humanity has the ability to go beyond the confines of planet Earth, the first humans to walk on another world -- Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin -- flew the ascent stage of their Lunar Module back to meet Michael Collins in the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. Pictured here on 1969 July 21 and recently digitally restored, the ascending spaceship was captured by Collins making its approach, with the Moon below, and Earth far in the distance. The smooth, dark area on the lunar surface is Mare Smythii located just below the equator on the extreme eastern edge of the Moon's near side. It is said of this iconic image that every person but one was in front of the camera.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 April 29 - Apollo 17: The Crescent Earth
Explanation: Our fair planet sports a curved, sunlit crescent against the black backdrop of space in this stunning photograph. From the unfamiliar perspective, the Earth is small and, like a telescopic image of a distant planet, the entire horizon is completely within the field of view. Enjoyed by crews on board the International Space Station, only much closer views of the planet are possible from low Earth orbit. Orbiting the planet once every 90 minutes, a spectacle of clouds, oceans, and continents scrolls beneath them with the partial arc of the planet's edge in the distance. But this digitally restored image presents a view so far only achieved by 24 humans, Apollo astronauts who traveled to the Moon and back again between 1968 and 1972. The original photograph, AS17-152-23420, was taken by the homeward bound crew of Apollo 17, on December 17, 1972. For now it's the last picture of Earth from this planetary perspective taken by human hands.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 April 23 - Flying Over the Earth at Night II
Explanation: Recorded during 2017, timelapse sequences from the International Space Station are compiled in this serene video of planet Earth at Night. Fans of low Earth orbit can start by enjoying the view as green and red aurora borealis slather up the sky. The night scene tracks from northwest to southeast across North America, toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida coast. A second sequence follows European city lights, crosses the Mediterranean Sea, and passes over a bright Nile river in northern Africa. Seen from the orbital outpost, erratic flashes of lightning appear in thunder storms below and stars rise above the planet's curved horizon through a faint atmospheric airglow. Of course, from home you can always check out the vital signs of Planet Earth Now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 April 22 - Planet Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture was taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles. But you can check out the vital signs of Planet Earth Now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 February 3 - Found on the Moon: Candidate for Oldest Known Earth Rock
Explanation: Was the oldest known rock on Earth found on the Moon? Quite possibly. The story opens with the Apollo 14 lunar mission. Lunar sample 14321, a large rock found in Cone crater by astronaut Alan Shepard, when analyzed back on Earth, was found to have a fragment that was a much better match to Earth rocks than other Moon rocks. Even more surprising, that rock section has recently been dated back 4 billion years, making it older, to within measurement uncertainty, than any rock ever found on Earth. A leading hypothesis now holds that an ancient comet or asteroid impact launched Earth rocks into the Solar System, some of which fell back to the Moon, became mixed with heated lunar soil and other rocks, cooled, and re-fragmented. The video features an internal X-ray scan of 14321 showing multiple sections with markedly different chemistries. Moon rocks will continue to be studied to learn a more complete history of the Moon, the Earth, and the early Solar System. Friday marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 14 landing on the Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 December 29 - Earth During a Total Solar Eclipse
Explanation: What does the Earth look like during a total solar eclipse? It appears dark in the region where people see the eclipse, because that's where the shadow of the Moon falls. The shadow spot rapidly shoots across the Earth at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour, darkening locations in its path -- typically for only a few minutes -- before moving on. The featured video shows the Earth during the total solar eclipse earlier this month. The time-lapse sequence, taken from a geostationary satellite, starts with the Earth below showing night but the sun soon rises at the lower right. Clouds shift as day breaks over the blue planet. Suddenly the circular shadow of the Moon appears on the left and moves rapidly across South America, disappearing on the lower right. The video ends as nightfall begins again. The next total solar eclipse will occur next December -- but be visible only from parts of Antarctica.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 July 1 - Our Rotating Earth
Explanation: Has your world ever turned upside-down? It would happen every day if you stay fixed to the stars. Most time-lapse videos of the night sky show the stars and sky moving above a steady Earth. Here, however, the camera has been forced to rotate so that the stars remain fixed, and the Earth rotates around them. The movie, with each hour is compressed to a second, dramatically demonstrates the daily rotation of the Earth, called diurnal motion. The video begins by showing an open field in Namibia, Africa, on a clear day, last year. Shadows shift as the Earth turns, the shadow of the Earth rises into the sky, the Belt of Venus momentarily appears, and then day turns into night. The majestic band of our Milky Way Galaxy stretches across the night sky, while sunlight-reflecting, Earth-orbiting satellites zoom by. In the night sky, you can even spot the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The video shows a sky visible from Earth's Southern Hemisphere, but a similar video could be made for every middle latitude on our blue planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 June 14 - Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth
Explanation: What are these humans doing? Dancing. Many humans on Earth exhibit periods of happiness, and one method of displaying happiness is dancing. Happiness and dancing transcend national boundaries and occur in practically every human society. Above, Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, planned on dancing, and filmed the result. The featured video, one in a series of similar videos, is perhaps a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious -- few people are able to watch the featured video without smiling.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 June 3 - The Dance of Venus and Earth
Explanation: Every time Venus passes the Earth, it shows the same face. This remarkable fact has been known for only about 50 years, ever since radio telescopes have been able to peer beneath Venus' thick clouds and track its slowly rotating surface. This inferior conjunction -- when Venus and Earth are the closest -- occurs today. The featured animation shows the positions of the Sun, Venus and Earth between 2010-2023 based on NASA-downloaded data, while a mock yellow 'arm' has been fixed to the ground on Venus to indicate rotation. The reason for this unusual 1.6-year resonance is the gravitational influence that Earth has on Venus, which surprisingly dominates the Sun's tidal effect. If Venus could be seen through the Sun's glare today, it would show just a very slight sliver of a crescent. Although previously visible in the evening sky, starting tomorrow, Venus will appear in the morning sky -- on the other side of the Sun as viewed from Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 May 27 - Earth and Moon through Saturn's Rings
Explanation: What are those dots between Saturn's rings? Our Earth and Moon. Just over three years ago, because the Sun was temporarily blocked by the body of Saturn, the robotic Cassini spacecraft was able to look toward the inner Solar System. There, it spotted our Earth and Moon -- just pin-pricks of light lying about 1.4 billion kilometers distant. Toward the right of the featured image is Saturn's A ring, with the broad Encke Gap on the far right and the narrower Keeler Gap toward the center. On the far left is Saturn's continually changing F Ring. From this perspective, the light seen from Saturn's rings was scattered mostly forward , and so appeared backlit. After more than a decade of exploration and discovery, the Cassini spacecraft ran low on fuel in 2017 and was directed to enter Saturn's atmosphere, where it surely melted.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 May 4 - Earth Flyby of BepiColombo
Explanation: What it would look like to approach planet Earth? Such an event was recorded visually in great detail by ESA's and JAXA's robotic BepiColombo spacecraft last month as it swung back past Earth on its journey in to the planet Mercury. Earth can be seen rotating on approach as it comes out from behind the spacecraft's high-gain antenna in this nearly 10-hour time-lapse video. The Earth is so bright that no background stars are visible. Launched in 2018, the robotic BepiColombo used the gravity of Earth to adjust its course, the first of nine planetary flybys over the next seven years -- but the only one involving Earth. Scheduled to enter orbit in 2025, BepiColombo will take images and data of the surface and magnetic field of Mercury in an effort to better understand the early evolution of our Solar System and its innermost planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 April 22 - Planet Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture was taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles. Of course from home, you can check out the Earth Now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 April 18 - Just Another Day on Aerosol Earth
Explanation: It was just another day on aerosol Earth. For August 23, 2018, the identification and distribution of aerosols in the Earth's atmosphere is shown in this dramatic, planet-wide digital visualization. Produced in real time, the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) model relies on a combination of Earth-observing satellite and ground-based data to calculate the presence of types of aerosols, tiny solid particles and liquid droplets, as they circulate above the entire planet. This August 23rd model shows black carbon particles in red from combustion processes, like smoke from the fires in the United States and Canada, spreading across large stretches of North America and Africa. Sea salt aerosols are in blue, swirling above threatening typhoons near South Korea and Japan, and the hurricane looming near Hawaii. Dust shown in purple hues is blowing over African and Asian deserts. The location of cities and towns can be found from the concentrations of lights based on satellite image data of the Earth at night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 October 12 - Interplanetary Earth
Explanation: In an interplanetary first, on July 19, 2013 Earth was photographed on the same day from two other worlds of the Solar System, innermost planet Mercury and ringed gas giant Saturn. Pictured on the left, Earth is the pale blue dot just below the rings of Saturn, as captured by the robotic Cassini spacecraft then orbiting the outermost gas giant. On that same day people across planet Earth snapped many of their own pictures of Saturn. On the right, the Earth-Moon system is seen against the dark background of space as captured by the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft, then in Mercury orbit. MESSENGER took its image as part of a search for small natural satellites of Mercury, moons that would be expected to be quite dim. In the MESSENGER image, the Earth (left) and Moon (right) are overexposed and shine brightly with reflected sunlight. Destined not to return to their home world, both Cassini and MESSENGER have since retired from their missions of Solar System exploration.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 October 11 - Planet Earth at Blue Hour
Explanation: Nature photographers and other fans of planet Earth always look forward to the blue hour. That's the transition in twilight, just before sunrise or after sunset, when the Sun is below the horizon but land and sky are still suffused with beautiful bluish hues of light. On August 8 this early morning blue hour panorama scanned along the clear western sky, away from the impending sunrise. A breathtaking scene, it looks down the slopes of Mt. Whitney, from along the John Muir Trail toward rugged peaks of planet Earth's Sierra Nevada mountain range. Above the horizon a faint pinkish band of back scattered sunlight, the anti-twilight arch or Belt of Venus, borders the falling grey shadow of Earth itself. Subtle bands of light across the clear sky are anti-crepuscular rays, defined by shadows of clouds near the sunward horizon. Actually following parallel lines they seem to converge along the horizon at the point opposite the rising Sun due to perspective.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 August 25 - Leaving Earth
Explanation: What it would look like to leave planet Earth? Such an event was recorded visually in great detail by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it swung back past the Earth in 2005 on its way in toward the planet Mercury. Earth can be seen rotating in this time-lapse video, as it recedes into the distance. The sunlit half of Earth is so bright that background stars are not visible. The robotic MESSENGER spacecraft is now in orbit around Mercury and has recently concluded the first complete map of the surface. On occasion, MESSENGER has continued to peer back at its home world. MESSENGER is one of the few things created on the Earth that has left and will never return -- at the end of its mission MESSENGER crashed into Mercury's surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 20 - Equinox on Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to an equinox on planet Earth. Today is the first day of spring in our fair planet's northern hemisphere, fall in the southern hemisphere, with day and night nearly equal around the globe. At an equinox Earth's terminator, the dividing line between day and night, connects the planet's north and south poles as seen at the start of this remarkable time-lapse video compressing an entire year into twelve seconds. To make it, the Meteosat satellite recorded these infrared images every day at the same local time from a geosynchronous orbit. The video actually starts at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator aligned vertically. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the terminator tilts to provide less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, reaching the solstice and northern hemisphere winter at the maximum tilt. As the year continues, the terminator tilts back again and March 2011 equinox arrives halfway through the video. Then the terminator swings past vertical the other way, reaching the the June 2011 solstice and the beginning of northern summer. The video ends as the September equinox returns.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 January 26 - The Umbra of Earth
Explanation: The dark, inner shadow of planet Earth is called the umbra. Shaped like a cone extending into space, it has a circular cross section most easily seen during a lunar eclipse. For example, on January 21 the Full Moon slid across the northern half of Earth's umbral shadow, entertaining moonwatchers around much of the planet. In the total phase of the eclipse, the Moon was completely within the umbra for 63 minutes. Recorded under clear, dark skies from the hills near Chiuduno, Italy this composite eclipse image uses successive pictures from totality (center) and partial phases to trace out a large part of the umbra's curved edge. Reflecting sunlight scattered by the atmosphere into Earth's shadow, the lunar surface appears reddened during totality. But close to the umbra's edge, the limb of the eclipsed Moon shows a distinct blue hue. The blue eclipsed moonlight originates as rays of sunlight pass through layers high in the upper stratosphere, colored by ozone that scatters red light and transmits blue.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 December 16 - Comet Wirtanen Passes by the Earth
Explanation: Today Comet Wirtanen passes by the Earth. The kilometer-sized dirty snowball orbits the Sun every 5.4 years, ranging as far out as Jupiter and as close in as the Earth. Today Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes within only 31 lunar distances to the Earth, the closest approach in 70 years. If you know where to look (Taurus), you can see the comet through binoculars as an unusual blue smudge. Pictured a week ago, Comet Wirtanen was photographed in the sky beyond an old abandoned church in Skagen, Denmark. The image composite also captures the astrophotographer. After today, the comet will begin to fade as it recedes from the Earth and the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 October 28 - Ultraviolet Earth from an Observatory on the Moon
Explanation: Which planet is this? Earth. The featured false color picture shows how the Earth shines in ultraviolet (UV) light. The image is historic because it was taken from the surface of the Moon by humanity's first lunar observatory. (Another is operating now.) Although very little UV light is transmitted through the Earth's atmosphere, what sunlight does make it through might cause a sunburn. 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 the result of auroras and are caused by charged particles expelled by the Sun. Other planets showing auroras in the UV include Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Uranus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 September 1 - Aerosol Earth
Explanation: For August 23, 2018, the identification and distribution of aerosols in the Earth's atmosphere is shown in this dramatic, planet-wide visualization. Produced in real time, the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) model relies on a combination of Earth-observing satellite and ground-based data to calculate the presence of types of aerosols, tiny solid particles and liquid droplets, as they circulate above the entire planet. This August 23rd model shows black carbon particles in red from combustion processes, like smoke from the fires in the United States and Canada, spreading across large stretches of North America and Africa. Sea salt aerosols are in blue, swirling above threatening typhoons near South Korea and Japan, and the hurricane looming near Hawaii. Dust shown in purple hues is blowing over African and Asian deserts. The location of cities and towns can be found from the concentrations of lights based on satellite image data of the Earth at night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 August 26 - Fire on Earth
Explanation: Sometimes, regions of planet Earth light up with fire. Since fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and since oxygen is a key indicator of life, fire on any planet would be an indicator of life on that planet. Most of the Earth's land has been scorched by fire at some time in the past. Although causing many a tragedy, for many places on Earth fire is considered part of a natural ecosystem cycle. Large forest fires on Earth are usually caused either by humans or lightning and can be visible from orbit. Featured from the year 2000, stunned elk avoid a fire sweeping through Montana's Bitterroot Valley by standing in a river.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 March 12 - Flying over the Earth at Night II
Explanation: What would it be like to orbit the Earth? The International Space Station (ISS) does this every 90 minutes, and sometimes the astronauts on board take image sequences that are made into videos. The featured time-lapse video shows many visual spectacles of the dark Earth below. First, as the video begins, green and red auroras are visible on the upper left above white clouds. Soon city lights come into view, and it becomes clear you are flying over North America, eventually passing over Florida. In the second sequence you fly over Europe and Africa, eventually passing over the Nile River. Brief flashes of light are lightning in storms. Stars far in the distance can be seen rising through the greenish-gold glow of the Earth's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 February 13 - Car Orbiting Earth
Explanation: Last week, a car orbited the Earth. The car, created by humans and robots on the Earth, was launched by the SpaceX Company to demonstrate the ability of its Falcon Heavy Rocket to place spacecraft out in the Solar System. Purposely fashioned to be whimsical, the iconic car was thought a better demonstration object than concrete blocks. A mannequin clad in a spacesuit -- dubbed the Starman -- sits in the driver's seat. The featured image is a frame from a video taken by one of three cameras mounted on the car. These cameras, connected to the car's battery, are now out of power. The car, attached to a second stage booster, soon left Earth orbit and will orbit the Sun between Earth and the asteroid belt indefinitely -- perhaps until billions of years from now when our Sun expands into a Red Giant. If ever recovered, what's left of the car may become a unique window into technologies developed on Earth in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 February 10 - Roadster, Starman, Planet Earth
Explanation: Don't panic. It's just a spacesuited mannequin named Starman. As the sunlit crescent of planet Earth recedes in the background, Starman is comfortably seated at the wheel of a Tesla Roadster in this final image of the payload launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6. Internationally designated 2018-017A, roadster and Starman are headed for space beyond the orbit of Mars. The successful Falcon Heavy rocket has now become the most powerful rocket in operation and the roadster one of four electric cars launched from planet Earth. The other three were launched to the Moon by historically more powerful (but not reusable) Saturn V rockets. Still, Starman's roadster is probably the only one that would be considered street legal.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 December 4 - Earth and Moon
Explanation: On rare occasions, the Earth and Moon are photographed together. One of most spectacular times this occurred was 25 years ago this month when the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft zoomed past our home planetary system. Then, robotic Galileo watched from about 15-times the Earth-Moon separation as our only natural satellite glided past our home world. The featured video combines 52 historic color-enhanced images. Although our Moon may appear small next to the Earth, no other planet in our Solar System has a satellite so comparable in size . The Sun, far off to the right, illuminated about half of each sphere, and shows the spinning Earth's white clouds, blue oceans, and tan continents. Tonight, a nearly full Oak supermoon will be visible from all of Earth from sunset to sunrise.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 July 9 - Earth at Night
Explanation: Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, on this world-wide nightscape, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The featured composite was created from images that were collected during cloud-free periods in April and October 2012 by the Suomi-NPP satellite, from a polar orbit about 824 kilometers above the surface, using its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 April 14 - Earth Shadow over Damavand
Explanation: Through crystal clear skies this beautiful panorama follows the curve of planet Earth's shadow rising across the top of the world. The tantalizing twilight view is composed of eight single frames captured from 4,000 meters above sea level at sunset on April 6. Just above the dark grey Earth-shadow boundary lies a fading, pinkish, anti-twilight arch. Also known as the belt of Venus, its reddened and back-scattered sunlight finally merges with the still blue eastern sky. Standing tall near center along the rugged horizon line is the distant sharp peak of Mount Damavand in the snowy Alborz mountains. A feature in Persian mythology and literature, Damavand is a stratovolcano reaching 5,610 meters above sea level, the highest peak in Iran and the Middle East.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 19 - Equinox on a Spinning Earth
Explanation: When does the line between day and night become vertical? Tomorrow. Tomorrow is an equinox on planet Earth, a time of year when day and night are most nearly equal. At an equinox, the Earth's terminator -- the dividing line between day and night -- becomes vertical and connects the north and south poles. The featured time-lapse video demonstrates this by displaying an entire year on planet Earth in twelve seconds. From geosynchronous orbit, the Meteosat satellite recorded these infrared images of the Earth every day at the same local time. The video started at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator line being vertical. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the terminator was seen to tilt in a way that provides less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, causing winter in the north. As the year progressed, the March 2011 equinox arrived halfway through the video, followed by the terminator tilting the other way, causing winter in the southern hemisphere -- and summer in the north. The captured year ends again with the September equinox, concluding another of billions of trips the Earth has taken -- and will take -- around the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 12 - Comet 45P Passes Near the Earth
Explanation: A large snowball has just passed the Earth. Known as Comet 45P/HondaMrkosPajdukov", or 45P for short, the comet came 10 times closer to Earth yesterday than the Earth ever gets to the Sun. During this passage, the comet was photographed sporting a thin ion tail and a faint but expansive green coma. The green color is caused mostly by energized molecules of carbon. Comet 45P became just bright enough to see with the unaided eye when it came closest to the Sun in December. Now, however, the comet is fading as it heads back out to near the orbit of Jupiter, where it spends most of its time. The kilometer-sized nucleus of ice and dirt will return to the inner Solar System in 2022.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 January 26 - GOES-16: Moon over Planet Earth
Explanation: Launched last November 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the satellite now known as GOES-16 can now observe planet Earth from a geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the equator. Its Advanced Baseline Imager captured this contrasting view of Earth and a gibbous Moon on January 15. The stark and airless Moon is not really the focus of GOES-16, though. Capable of providing a high resolution full disk image of Earth every 15 minutes in 16 spectral channels, the new generation satellite's instrumentation is geared to provide sharper, more detailed views of Earth's dynamic weather systems and enable more accurate weather forecasting. Like previous GOES weather satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon over our fair planet as a calibration target.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 October 10 - The Winds of Earth
Explanation: Which way is the wind blowing? The featured map can tell you this and much more, no matter your location on planet Earth. The dynamic map displays supercomputer forecasts drawn from multiple sources of global satellite data updated every three hours. Bright swirls usually indicate low pressure systems with high wind speeds, including dramatic cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons. Although the globe can be rotated interactively here, to obtain full interactivity -- including the ability to zoom -- you should click the word "earth" on the lower left or send your browser directly to https://earth.nullschool.net. The "earth" control panel there further allows you to overlay temperature, humidity, pressure, precipitation, and carbon dioxide maps, or even switch to displaying higher altitude wind speeds or ocean currents. In particular during times of rapid change, the displayed maps may be outdated or inaccurate.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 September 11 - All the Water on Planet Earth
Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth's surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth's radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth's Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn's moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth's surface remain topics of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 12 - Combined Solar Eclipse Corona from Earth and Space
Explanation: Sometimes, a total eclipse is a good time to eye the Sun. Taking advantage of an unusual juxtaposition of Earth, Moon and Sun, the featured image depicts the total solar eclipse that occurred last month as it appeared -- nearly simultaneously -- from both Earth and space. The innermost image shows the total eclipse from the ground, with the central pupil created by the bright Sun covered by a comparatively dark Moon. Surrounding the blocked solar disk is the tenuous corona of Sun imaged in white light, easily visible from the ground only during an eclipse. Normally, this corona is hard to track far from the Sun, but the featured montage matches it to false-colored observations of the Sun from NASA and ESA's space-based, Sun-orbiting, Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Observations like this allow the study of the constantly changing magnetic activity both near and far from the Sun, the same activity that ultimately drives Earth's auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 7 - Earth and Milky Way from Space
Explanation: Since November 2000, people have been living continuously on the International Space Station. To celebrate humanity's 15th anniversary off planet Earth, consider this snapshot from space of our galaxy and our home world posing together beyond the orbital outpost. The Milky Way stretches below the curve of Earth's limb in the scene that also records a faint red, extended airglow. The galaxy's central bulge appears with starfields cut by dark rifts of obscuring interstellar dust. The picture was taken by Astronaut Scott Kelly on August 9, 2015, the 135th day of his one-year mission in space.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 7 - Full Earth, Full Moon
Explanation: The Moon was new on July 16. Its familiar nearside facing the surface of planet Earth was in shadow. But on that date a million miles away, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) captured this view of an apparently Full Moon crossing in front of a Full Earth. In fact, seen from the spacecraft's position beyond the Moon's orbit and between Earth and Sun, the fully illuminated lunar hemisphere is the less familiar farside. Only known since the dawn of the space age, the farside is mostly devoid of dark lunar maria that sprawl across the Moon's perpetual Earth-facing hemisphere. Only the small dark spot of the farside's Mare Moscoviense (Sea of Moscow) is clear, at the upper left. Planet Earth's north pole is near 11 o'clock, with the North America visited by Hurricane Dolores near center. Slight color shifts are visible around the lunar edge, an artifact of the Moon's motion through the field caused by combining the camera's separate exposures taken in quick succession through different color filters. While monitoring the Earth and solar wind for space weather forcasts, about twice a year DSCOVR can capture similar images of Moon and Earth together as it crosses the orbital plane of the Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 8 - Full Moon in Earth's Shadow
Explanation: Last week the Full Moon was completely immersed in Earth's dark umbral shadow, just briefly though. The total phase of the April 4, 2015 lunar eclipse lasted less than 5 minutes, the shortest total lunar eclipse of the century. In fact, sliding just within the Earth's umbral shadow's northern edge, the lunar north stayed relatively bright, while a beautiful range of blue and red hues emerged across the rest of the Moon's Earth-facing hemisphere. The reddened light within the shadow that reaches the lunar surface is filtered through the lower atmosphere. Seen from a lunar perspective it comes from all the sunsets and sunrises around the edges of the silhouetted Earth. Close to the shadow's edge, the bluer light is still filtered through Earth's atmosphere, but originates as rays of sunlight pass through layers high in the upper stratosphere. That light is colored by ozone that absorbs red light and transmits bluer hues. In this sharp telescopic view of totality from Auckland, New Zealand, planet Earth, the Moon's north pole has been rotated to the top of the frame.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 18 - Earth During a Total Eclipse of the Sun
Explanation: What does the Earth look like during a total solar eclipse? It appears dark in the region where people see the eclipse, because that's where the shadow of the Moon falls. The shadow spot actually shoots across the Earth at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour, darkening locations in its path for only a few minutes before moving on. The featured image shows the Earth during the total solar eclipse of 2006 March, as seen from the International Space Station. On Friday the Moon will move in front of the Sun once again, casting another distorted circular shadow that, this time, will zip over part of the north Atlantic Ocean.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 4 - Moon and Earth from Chang e 5 T1
Explanation: Described at times as a big blue marble, from some vantage points Earth looks more like a small blue marble. Such was the case in this iconic image of the Earth and Moon system taken by the Chang'e 5-T1 mission last week. The Moon appears larger than the Earth because it was much closer to the spacecraft's camera. Displaying much of a surface usually hidden from Earth, the Moon appears dark and gray when compared to the more reflective and colorful planet that it orbits. The robotic Chang'e 5-T1 spacecraft, predominantly on an engineering test mission, rounded the Moon last Tuesday returned to Earth on Friday.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 September 22 - Earth at Equinox
Explanation: Earth is at equinox. Over the next 24 hours, day and night have nearly equal duration all over planet Earth. Technically, equinox transpires at 2:29 am Universal Time tomorrow, but this occurs today in North and South America. This September equinox signal that winter is approaching in the northern hemisphere, and summer is approaching in the south. At equinox, the dividing line between the sunlit half of Earth and the nighttime half of Earth temporarily passes through Earth's north and south spin poles. This dividing line is shown in clear detail in the featured video, taken by the Russian meteorological satellite Elektro-L during last year's September equinox. The Elektro-L satellite is in geostationary orbit over one spot on Earth's equator and always points directly toward the Earth. The featured video shows a time lapse for an entire day surrounding the equinox, with a new image taken every 30 minutes. Cloud motions are visible as well as the reflection of the Sun are visible as the equinox day progressed. The next Earth equinox is scheduled for March.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 August 5 - Four Billion BCE: Battered Earth
Explanation: No place on Earth was safe. Four billion years ago, during the Hadean eon, our Solar System was a dangerous shooting gallery of large and dangerous rocks and ice chunks. Recent examination of lunar and Earth bombardment data indicate that the entire surface of the Earth underwent piecemeal upheavals, hiding our globe's ancient geologic history, and creating a battered world with no remaining familiar land masses. The rain of devastation made it difficult for any life to survive, although bacteria that could endure high temperatures had the best chance. Oceans thought to have formed during this epoch would boil away after particularly heavy impacts, only to reform again. The above artist's illustration depicts how Earth might have looked during this epoch, with circular impact features dotting the daylight side, and hot lava flows visible in the night. One billion years later, in a calmer Solar System, Earth's first supercontinent formed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 19 - Earth-size Kepler-186f
Explanation: Planet Kepler-186f is the first known Earth-size planet to lie within the habitable zone of a star beyond the Sun. Discovered using data from the prolific planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, the distant world orbits its parent star, a cool, dim, M dwarf star about half the size and mass of the Sun, some 500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. M dwarfs are common, making up about 70 percent of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy. To be within the habitable zone, where surface temperatures allowing liquid water are possible, Kepler-186f orbits close, within 53 million kilometers (about the Mercury-Sun distance) of the M dwarf star, once every 130 days. Four other planets are known in the distant system. All four are only a little larger than Earth and in much closer orbits, also illustrated in the tantalizing artist's vision. While the size and orbit of Kepler-186f are known, its mass and composition are not, and can't be determined by Kepler's transit technique. Still, models suggest that it could be rocky and have an atmosphere, making it potentially the most Earth-like exoplanet discovered so far ...

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 19 - Equinox on a Spinning Earth
Explanation: When does the line between day and night become vertical? Tomorrow. Tomorrow is an equinox on planet Earth, a time of year when day and night are most nearly equal. At an equinox, the Earth's terminator -- the dividing line between day and night -- becomes vertical and connects the north and south poles. The above time-lapse video demonstrates this by displaying an entire year on planet Earth in twelve seconds. From geosynchronous orbit, the Meteosat satellite recorded these infrared images of the Earth every day at the same local time. The video started at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator line being vertical. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the terminator was seen to tilt in a way that provides less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, causing winter in the north. As the year progressed, the March 2011 equinox arrived halfway through the video, followed by the terminator tilting the other way, causing winter in the southern hemisphere -- and summer in the north. The captured year ends again with the September equinox, concluding another of billions of trips the Earth has taken -- and will take -- around the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 December 11 - The Coldest Place on Earth
Explanation: How cold can it get on Earth? In the interior of the Antarctica, a record low temperature of -93.2 C (-135.8 F) has been recorded. This is about 25 C (45 F) colder than the coldest lows noted for any place humans live permanently. The record temperature occurred in 2010 August -- winter in Antarctica -- and was found by scientists sifting through decades of climate data taken by Earth-orbiting satellites. The coldest spots were found near peaks because higher air is generally colder, although specifically in depressions near these peaks because relatively dense cold air settled there and was further cooled by the frozen ground. Summer is a much better time to visit Antarctica, as some regions will warm up as high as 15 C (59 F).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 December 6 - Gamma Ray Earth and Sky
Explanation: For an Earth-orbiting gamma-ray telescope, Earth is actually the brightest source of gamma-rays, the most energetic form of light. Gamma-rays from Earth are produced when high energy particles, cosmic rays from space, crash into the atmosphere. While that interaction blocks harmful radiation from reaching the surface, those gamma-rays dominate in this remarkable Earth and sky view from the orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope's Large Area Telescope. The image was constructed using only observations made when the center of our Milky Way galaxy was near the zenith, directly above the Fermi satellite. The zenith is mapped to the center of the field. The Earth and points near the nadir, directly below the satellite, are mapped to the edges of the field resulting in an Earth and all-sky projection from Fermi's orbital perspective. The color scheme shows low intensities of gamma-rays as blue and high intensities as yellowish hues on a logarithmic scale. Our fair planet's brighter gamma-ray glow floods the edges of field, the high intensity yellow ring tracing Earth's limb. Gamma-ray sources in the sky along the relatively faint Milky Way stretch diagonally across the middle. Launched June 11, 2008 to explore the high-energy Universe, this week Fermi celebrated its 2,000th day in low Earth orbit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 5 - Kepler 78b: Earth-Sized Planet Discovered
Explanation: Even though Kepler-78b is only slightly larger than the Earth, it should not exist. Its size is extraordinary only in the sense that it is the most similar in size to the Earth of any exoplanet yet directly discovered. Its orbit, however, is extraordinary in the sense that it circles a Sun-like star 40 times closer than planet Mercury. At such a scathing distance, even rock is liquid. Models of planet formation predict that no planet can form in such a close orbit, and models of planet evolution predict that Kepler-78b's orbit should decay -- dooming the planet to eventually merge with its parent star. Illustrated above in comparison with the Earth, Kepler-78b was discovered by eclipse with the Earth-trailing Kepler spacecraft and further monitored for subtle wobbles by the HARPS- North, a spectrograph attached to the 3.6-meter Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 September 19 - Moon, Venus, and Planet Earth
Explanation: In this engaging scene from planet Earth, the Moon shines through cloudy skies following sunset on the evening of September 8. Despite the fading light, the camera's long exposure still recorded a colorful, detailed view of a shoreline and western horizon looking toward the island San Gabriel from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Lights from Buenos Aires, Argentina are along the horizon on the left, across the broad Rio de la Plata estuary. The long exposure strongly overexposed the Moon and sky around it, though. So the photographer quickly snapped a shorter one to merge with the first image in the area around the bright lunar disk. As the the second image was made with a telephoto setting, the digital merger captures both Earth and sky, exaggerating the young Moon's slender crescent shape in relation to the two nearby bright stars. The more distant is bluish Spica, alpha star of the constellation Virgo. Closest to the Moon is Earth's evening star, planet Venus, emerging from a lunar occultation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 September 10 - Extrasolar Super Earth Gliese 1214b Might Hold Water
Explanation: Might this distant planet hold water? Actually, given how close Gliese 1214b is to its parent star, any water, if it exists, would surely be in the form of steam. In the above artist's illustration, the super-Earth Gliese 1214b is imagined passing in front of its parent star, creating a mini-eclipse that alerted humanity to its presence. Gliese 1214b, also designated GJ 1214b, has been designated a super-Earth because it is larger than the Earth but smaller a planet like Neptune. The entire Gliese 1214 planetary system is of the closest known systems to our Sun, located only 42 light years away. The parent star, Gliese 1214 is a slightly smaller and cooler version of our Sun. Recent observations from the Subaru telescope in Hawaii found very little scattering of blue light from the parent star by the planet. This appears most consistent with a planet that has a watery atmosphere -- although it is still possible that the super-Earth has clouds so thick that little of any color of light was scattered. Detecting water on exoplanets is important partly because most lifeforms on Earth need water to survive.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 September 1 - Fire on Earth
Explanation: Sometimes, regions of planet Earth light up with fire. Since fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and since oxygen is a key indicator of life, fire on any planet would be an indicator of life on that planet. Most of the Earth's land has been scorched by fire at some time in the past. Although causing many a tragedy, for many places on Earth fire is considered part of a natural ecosystem cycle. Large forest fires on Earth are usually caused by lightning and can be visible from orbit. Above, in the year 2000, stunned elk avoid a fire sweeping through Montana's Bitterroot Valley by standing in a river.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 24 - Earth Waves at Saturn
Explanation: This friendly photo collage is constructed from more than 1,400 images shared by denizens of planet Earth as part of the Cassini Mission's July 19th Wave at Saturn event. The base picture of Earth corresponds to the view from the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft on that date, when its own cameras recorded images including planet Earth as a pale blue dot in the background. Of course, Saturn was 9.65 Astronomical Units away at the time, so it took light from all the waving Earth dwellers just over 80 minutes to travel there. Want to smile? Download and zoom in to the full-resolution (28MB jpg file) collage image available here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 18 - Skylab Over Earth
Explanation: Skylab was an orbiting laboratory launched by a Saturn V rocket in May 1973. Skylab, pictured above, was visited three times by NASA astronauts who sometimes stayed as long as two and a half months. Many scientific tests were performed on Skylab, including astronomical observations in ultraviolet and X-ray light. Some of these observations yielded valuable information about Comet Kohoutek, our Sun and about the mysterious X-ray background - radiation that comes from all over the sky. Skylab fell back to earth on 1979 July 11.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 5 - Leaving Earth
Explanation: What it would look like to leave planet Earth? Such an event was recorded visually in great detail by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it swung back past the Earth, eight years ago, on its way in toward the planet Mercury. Earth can be seen rotating in this time-lapse video, as it recedes into the distance. The sunlit half of Earth is so bright that background stars are not visible. The robotic MESSENGER spacecraft is now in orbit around Mercury and has recently concluded the first complete map of the surface. On occasion, MESSENGER has continued to peer back at its home world. MESSENGER is one of the few things created on the Earth that has left and will never return -- at the end of its mission MESSENGER will be crashed into Mercury's surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 31 - 130 Years of Earth Surface Temperatures
Explanation: How has the surface temperature of Earth been changing? To help find out, Earth scientists collected temperature records from over 1000 weather stations around the globe since 1880, and combined them with modern satellite data. The above movie dramatizes the result showing 130 years of planet-wide temperature changes relative to the local average temperatures in the mid-1900s. In the above global maps, red means warmer and blue means colder. On average, the display demonstrates that the temperature on Earth has increased by nearly one degree Celsius over the past 130 years, and many of the warmest years on record have occurred only recently. Global climate change is of more than passing interest -- it is linked to global weather severity and coastal sea water levels.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 23 - Two Views of Earth
Explanation: In a cross-Solar System interplanetary first, our Earth was photographed during the same day from both Mercury and Saturn. Pictured on the left, Earth is the pale blue dot just below the rings of Saturn, as captured by the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting the gas giant. Pictured on the right, the Earth-Moon system is seen against a dark background, as captured by the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft now orbiting Mercury. In the MESSENGER image, the Earth (left) and Moon (right) shine brightly with reflected sunlight. MESSENGER took the overexposed image last Friday as part of a search for small natural satellites of the innermost planet, moons that would be expected to be quite dim. During this same day, humans across planet Earth snapped many of their own pictures of Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 22 - Earth and Moon from Saturn
Explanation: You are here. Everyone you've ever known is here. Every human who has ever lived -- is here. Pictured above is the Earth-Moon system as captured by the Cassini mission orbiting Saturn in the outer Solar System. Earth is the brighter and bluer of the two spots near the center, while the Moon is visible to its lower right. Images of Earth from Saturn were taken on Friday. Quickly released unprocessed images were released Saturday showing several streaks that are not stars but rather cosmic rays that struck the digital camera while it was taking the image. The above processed image was released earlier today. At nearly the same time, many humans on Earth were snapping their own pictures of Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 8 - Earth's Major Telescopes Investigate GRB 130427A
Explanation: A tremendous explosion has occurred in the nearby universe and major telescopes across Earth and space are investigating. Dubbed GRB 130427A, the gamma-ray burst was first detected by the Earth-orbiting Fermi and Swift satellites observing at high energies and quickly reported down to Earth. Within three minutes, the half-meter ISON telescope in New Mexico found the blast in visible light, noted its extreme brightness, and relayed more exact coordinates. Within the next few minutes, the bright optical counterpart was being tracked by several quickly re-pointable telescopes including the 2.0-meter P60 telescope in California, the 1.3-meter PAIRITEL telescope in Arizona, and the 2.0-meter Faulkes Telescope North in Hawaii. Within two hours, the 8.2-meter Gemini North telescope in Hawaii noted a redshift of 0.34, placing the explosion about 5 billion light years away -- considered nearby in cosmological terms. Previously recorded images from the RAPTOR full-sky monitors were scanned and a very bright optical counterpart -- magnitude 7.4 -- was found 50 seconds before the Swift trigger. The brightest burst in recent years, a signal from GRB 130427A has also been found in low energy radio waves by the Very Large Array (VLA) and at the highest energies ever recorded by the Fermi satellite. Neutrino, gravitational wave, and telescopes designed to detect only extremely high energy photons are checking their data for a GRB 130427A signal. Pictured in the above animation, the entire gamma-ray sky is shown becoming momentarily dominated by the intense glow of GRB 130427A. Continued tracking the optical counterpart will surely be ongoing as there is a possibility that the glow of a classic supernova will soon emerge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 April 6 - Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture actually is a single digital photograph taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 March 31 - Flying Over the Earth at Night
Explanation: Many wonders are visible when flying over the Earth at night. A compilation of such visual spectacles was captured recently from the International Space Station (ISS) and set to rousing music. Passing below are white clouds, orange city lights, lightning flashes in thunderstorms, and dark blue seas. On the horizon is the golden haze of Earth's thin atmosphere, frequently decorated by dancing auroras as the video progresses. The green parts of auroras typically remain below the space station, but the station flies right through the red and purple auroral peaks. Solar panels of the ISS are seen around the frame edges. The ominous wave of approaching brightness at the end of each sequence is just the dawn of the sunlit half of Earth, a dawn that occurs every 90 minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 March 15 - CME, Comet, and Planet Earth
Explanation: After appearing in a popular photo opportunity with a young crescent Moon near sunset, naked-eye Comet PanSTARRS continues to rise in northern hemisphere skies. But this remarkable interplanetary perspective from March 13, finds the comet posing with our fair planet itself - as seen from the STEREO Behind spacecraft. Following in Earth's orbit, the spacecraft is nearly opposite the Sun and looks back toward the comet and Earth, with the Sun just off the left side of the frame. At the left an enormous coronal mass ejection (CME) is erupting from a solar active region. Of course, CME, comet, and planet Earth are all at different distances from the spacecraft. (The comet is closest.) The processed digital image is the difference between two consecutive frames from the spacecraft's SECCHI Heliospheric Imager, causing the strong shadowing effect for objects that move between frames. Objects that are too bright create the sharp vertical lines. The processing reveals complicated feather-like structures in Comet PanSTARRS's extensive dust tail.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 February 17 - Asteroid 2012 DA14 Passes the Earth
Explanation: There it goes. That small spot moving in front of background stars in the above video is a potentially dangerous asteroid passing above the Earth's atmosphere. This past Friday, the 50-meter wide asteroid 2012 DA14 just missed the Earth, passing not only inside the orbit of the Moon, which is unusually close for an asteroid of this size, but also inside the orbit of geosynchronous satellites. Unfortunately, asteroids this big or bigger strike the Earth every 1000 years or so. Were 2012 DA14 to have hit the Earth, it could have devastated a city-sized landscape, or stuck an ocean and raised dangerous tsunamis. Although finding and tracking potentially dangerous asteroids is a primary concern of modern astronomy, these small bodies or ice and rock are typically so dim that only a few percent of them have been found, so far. Even smaller chunks of ice and rock, like the (unrelated) spectacular meteors that streaked over Russia and California over the past few days, are even harder to find -- but pose less danger.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 7 - Earth at Night
Explanation: This remarkably complete view of Earth at night is a composite of cloud-free, nighttime images. The images were collected during April and October 2012 by the Suomi-NPP satellite from polar orbit about 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface using its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). VIIRS offers greatly improved resolution and sensitivity compared to past global nightlight detecting instrumentation on DMSP satellites. It also has advantages compared to cameras on the International Space Station. While the space station passes over the same point on Earth every two or three days, Suomi-NPP passes over the same point twice a day at about 1:30am and 1:30pm local time. Easy to recognize here, city lights identify major population centers, tracking the effects of human activity and influence across the globe. That makes nighttime images of our fair planet among the most interesting and important views from space.

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 September 4 - Hurricane Paths on Planet Earth
Explanation: Should you be worried about hurricanes? To find out, it is useful to know where hurricanes have gone in the past. The above Earth map shows the path of every hurricane reported since 1851, Although striking, a growing incompleteness exists in the data the further one looks back in time. The above map graphically indicates that hurricanes -- sometimes called cyclones or typhoons depending on where they form -- usually occur over water, which makes sense since evaporating warm water gives them energy. The map also shows that hurricanes never cross -- or even occur very near -- the Earth's equator, since the Coriolis effect goes to zero there, and hurricanes need the Coriolis force to circulate. The Coriolis force also causes hurricane paths to arc away from the equator. Although incompleteness fogs long term trends and the prevalence of hurricanes remains a topic of research, evidence is accumulating that hurricanes are, on the average, more common and more powerful in the North Atlantic Ocean over the past 20 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 10 - Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth
Explanation: What are these humans doing? Dancing. Many humans on Earth exhibit periods of happiness, and one method of displaying happiness is dancing. Happiness and dancing transcend political boundaries and occur in practically every human society. Above, Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, planned on dancing, and filmed the result. The above video, the latest in a series of similar videos, is perhaps a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious -- few people are able to watch the above video without smiling.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 30 - Looking Back at an Eclipsed Earth
Explanation: What's that dark spot on planet Earth? It's the shadow of the Moon. The above image of Earth was taken last week by MTSAT during an annular eclipse of the Sun. The dark spot appears quite unusual as clouds are white and the oceans are blue in this color corrected image. Earthlings residing within the dark spot would see part of the Sun blocked by the Moon and so receive less sunlight than normal. The spot moved across the Earth at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour, giving many viewers less than two hours to see a partially eclipsed Sun. MTSAT circles the Earth in a geostationary orbit and so took the above image from about three Earth-diameters away. Sky enthusiasts might want to keep their eyes pointed upward this coming week as a partial eclipse of the Moon will occur on June 4 and a transit of Venus across the face of the Sun will occur on June 5.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 15 - All the Water on Planet Earth
Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth's surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth's radius. The above illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth's Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn's moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth's surface remain topics of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 April 27 - Jupiter and the Moons of Earth
Explanation: Planet Earth has many moons. Its largest artifical moon, the International Space Station, streaks through this lovely skyview with clouds in silhouette against the fading light of a sunset. Captured from Stuttgart, Germany last Sunday, the frame also includes Earth's largest natural satellite 1.5 days after its New Moon phase. Just below and left of the young crescent is Jupiter, another bright celestial beacon hovering near the western horizon in early evening skies. Only briefly, as seen from the photographer's location, Jupiter and these moons of Earth formed the remarkably close triple conjunction. Of course, Jupiter has many moons too. In fact, close inspection of the photo will reveal tiny pin pricks of light near the bright planet, large natural satellites of Jupiter known as Galilean moons.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 5 - Flying Over the Earth at Night
Explanation: Many wonders are visible when flying over the Earth at night. A compilation of such visual spectacles was captured recently from the International Space Station (ISS) and set to rousing music. Passing below are white clouds, orange city lights, lightning flashes in thunderstorms, and dark blue seas. On the horizon is the golden haze of Earth's thin atmosphere, frequently decorated by dancing auroras as the video progresses. The green parts of auroras typically remain below the space station, but the station flies right through the red and purple auroral peaks. Solar panels of the ISS are seen around the frame edges. The ominous wave of approaching brightness at the end of each sequence is just the dawn of the sunlit half of Earth, a dawn that occurs every 90 minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 30 - Blue Marble Earth from Suomi NPP
Explanation: Behold one of the more detailed images of the Earth yet created. This Blue Marble Earth montage shown above -- created from photographs taken by the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on board the new Suomi NPP satellite -- shows many stunning details of our home planet. The Suomi NPP satellite was launched last October and renamed last week after Verner Suomi, commonly deemed the father of satellite meteorology. The composite was created from the data collected during four orbits of the robotic satellite taken earlier this month and digitally projected onto the globe. Many features of North America and the Western Hemisphere are particularly visible on a high resolution version of the image. Previously, several other Blue Marble Earth images have been created, some at even higher resolution.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 December 15 - The Umbra of Earth
Explanation: The dark, inner shadow of planet Earth is called the umbra. Shaped like a cone extending into space, it has a circular cross section most easily seen during a lunar eclipse. For example, last Saturday the Full Moon slid across the southern half of Earth's umbral shadow, entertaining moonwatchers around much of the planet. In the total phase of the eclipse, the Moon was completely within the umbra for 51 minutes. Recorded from Beijing, China, this composite eclipse image uses successive pictures from totality (center) and partial phases to trace out a large part of the umbra's curved edge. Background stars are visible in the darker eclipse phases. The result shows the relative size of the shadow's cross section at the distance of the Moon, as well as the Moon's path through Earth's umbra.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 December 7 Kepler 22b: An Almost Earth Orbiting an Almost Sun
Explanation: It's the closest match to Earth that has yet been found. Recently discovered planet Kepler 22b has therefore instantly become the best place to find life outside our Solar System. The planet's host star, Kepler 22, is actually slightly smaller and cooler than the Sun, and lies 600 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). The planet, Kepler 22b, is over twice the radius of the Earth and orbits slightly closer in, but lies in the habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface. Pictured above is an artist's depiction of how Kepler 22b might appear to an approaching spaceship, in comparison to the inner planets of our Solar System. Whether Kepler 22b actually contains water or life is currently unknown. A SETI project, however, will begin monitoring Kepler 22b for signs of intelligence.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 November 9 - Asteroid 2005 YU55 Passes the Earth
Explanation: Asteroid 2005 YU55 passed by the Earth yesterday, posing no danger. The space rock, estimated to be about 400 meters across, coasted by just inside the orbit of Earth's Moon. Although the passing of smaller rocks near the Earth is not very unusual -- in fact small rocks from space strike Earth daily -- a rock this large hasn't passed this close since 1976. Were YU55 to have struck land, it might have caused a magnitude seven earthquake and left a city-sized crater. A perhaps larger danger would have occurred were YU55 to have struck the ocean and raised a large tsunami. The above radar image was taken two days ago by the Deep Space Network radio telescope in Goldstone, California, USA. YU55 was discovered only in 2005, indicating that other potentially hazardous asteroids might lurk in our Solar System currently undetected. Objects like YU55 are hard to detect because they are so faint and move so fast. However, humanity's ability to scan the sky to detect, catalog, and analyze such objects has increased notably in recent years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 1 - Asteroids Near Earth
Explanation: Though the sizes are not to scale, the Sun and planets of the inner solar system are shown in this illustration, where each red dot represents an asteroid. New results from NEOWISE, the infrared asteroid hunting portion of the WISE mission, are shown on the left compared to old population projections of mid-size or larger near-Earth asteroids from surveys at visible wavelengths. And the good news is, NEOWISE observations estimate there are 40 percent fewer near-Earth asteroids that are larger than 100 meters (330 feet), than indicated by visible light searches. Based on infrared imaging, the NEOWISE results are more accurate as well. Heated by the Sun, asteroids of the same size radiate the same amount of infrared light, but can reflect very different amounts of visible sunlight depending on how shiny their surface is, or their surface albedo. That effect can bias surveys based on optical observations. NEOWISE results reduce the estimated number of mid-size near-Earth asteroids from about 35,000 to 19,500, but the majority still remain undiscovered.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 27 - Flying over Planet Earth
Explanation: Have you ever dreamed of flying high above the Earth? Astronauts visiting the International Space Station do this every day, circling our restless planet twice every three hours. A dramatic example of their view was compiled in the above time-lapse video from images taken earlier this month. As the ISS speeds into the nighttime half of the globe, familiar constellations of stars remain visible above. An aerosol haze of Earth's thin atmosphere is visible on the horizon as an thin multi-colored ring. Many wonders whiz by below, including vast banks of white clouds, large stretches of deep blue sea, land lit up by the lights of big cities and small towns, and storm clouds flashing with lightning. The video starts over the northern Pacific Ocean and then passes from western North America to western South America, ending near Antarctica as daylight finally approaches.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 June 1 - Earth Rotating Under Very Large Telescopes
Explanation: Why is the Earth moving in the above video? Most time lapse videos of the night sky show the stars and sky moving above a steady Earth. Here, however, the frames have been digitally rotated so that it is the stars that stay (approximately) steady, and the Earth that moves beneath them. The video dramatically shows the actual rotation of the Earth, called diurnal motion, in a clear and moving way, as if the camera were floating free in space. The telescopes featured in the video are the Very Large Telescopes (VLT) in Chile, a group of four of the largest optical telescopes deployed anywhere in the world. A discerning observer of the above time lapse movie may also note the use of laser guide stars, zodiacal light, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and fast-moving, sunlight-reflecting, Earth-orbiting satellites. The original video, on which the above sequences are based, can be found here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 2 - Looking Back at an Eclipsed Earth
Explanation: Here is what the Earth looks like during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moved across the Earth at nearly 2000 kilometers per hour. Only observers near the center of the dark circle see a total solar eclipse - others see a partial eclipse where only part of the Sun appears blocked by the Moon. This spectacular picture of the 1999 August 11 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station. The two bright spots that appear on the upper left are thought to be Jupiter and Saturn. Mir was deorbited in a controlled re-entry in 2001.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 1 - Earth and Moon from MESSENGER
Explanation: What does Earth look like from the planet Mercury? The robotic spacecraft MESSENGER found out as it looked toward the Earth during its closest approach to the Sun about three months ago. The Earth and Moon are visible as the double spot on the lower left of the above image. Now MESSENGER was not at Mercury when it took the above image, but at a location from which the view would be similar. From Mercury, both the Earth and its comparatively large moon will always appear as small circles of reflected sunlight and will never show a crescent phase. MESSENGER has zipped right by Mercury three times since being launched in 2004, and is scheduled to enter orbit around the innermost planet in March of 2011.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 25 - Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth
Explanation: What are these humans doing? Dancing. Many humans on Earth exhibit periods of happiness, and one method of displaying happiness is dancing. Happiness and dancing transcend political boundaries and occur in practically every human society. Above, Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, started dancing, and filmed the result. The video is perhaps a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious -- few people are able to watch the above video without smiling.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 13 - Mosaic: Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. This picture of Earth, dubbed Blue Marble, was taken from Apollo 17 in 1972 and features Africa and Antarctica. It is thought to be one of the most widely distributed photographs of any kind. Here, the world famous image has been recast as a spectacular photomosaic using over 5,000 archived images of Earth and space. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 16 - Comet Hyakutake Passes the Earth
Explanation: In 1996, an unexpectedly bright comet passed by planet Earth. Discovered less than two months before, Comet C/1996 B2 Hyakutake came within only 1/10th of the Earth-Sun distance from the Earth in late March. At that time, Comet Hyakutake, dubbed the Great Comet of 1996, became the brightest comet to grace the skies of Earth in 20 years. During its previous visit, Comet Hyakutake may well have been seen by the stone age Magdalenian culture, who 17,000 years ago were possibly among the first humans to live in tents as well as caves. Pictured above near closest approach as it appeared on 1996 March 26, the long ion and dust tails of Comet Hyakutake are visible flowing off to the left in front of a distant star field that includes both the Big and Little Dippers. On the far left, the blue ion tail appears to have recently undergone a magnetic disconnection event. On the far right, the comet's green-tinted coma obscures a dense nucleus of melting dirty ice estimated to be about 5 kilometers across. A few months later, Comet Hyakutake began its long trek back to the outer Solar System. Because of being gravitationally deflected by massive planets, Comet Hyakutake is not expected back for about 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 November 30 - Bright Sun and Crescent Earth from the Space Station
Explanation: This was just one more breathtaking view from the International Space Station. The Sun, a crescent Earth, and the long arm of a solar panel were all visible outside a window when the Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the orbiting outpost last week. Reflections from the window and hexagonal lens flares from the camera are superposed. The space shuttle landed Friday after a successful 10 day mission to expand and resupply the ISS. Numbered STS-129, the space shuttle mission returned astronaut Nicole Stott to Earth from her stay on the ISS as a Flight Engineer in the Expedition 20 and 21 crews.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 November 23 - Crescent Earth from the Departing Rosetta Spacecraft
Explanation: Goodbye Earth. Earlier this month, ESA's interplanetary Rosetta spacecraft zoomed past the Earth on its way back across the Solar System. Pictured above, Earth showed a bright crescent phase featuring the South Pole to the passing rocket ship. Launched from Earth in 2004, Rosetta used the gravity of the Earth to help propel it out past Mars and toward a 2014 rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Last year, the robot spacecraft passed asteroid 2867 Steins, and next year it is scheduled to pass enigmatic asteroid 21 Lutetia. If all goes well, Rosetta will release a probe that will land on the 15-km diameter comet in 2014.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 October 5 - The International Space Station Over Earth
Explanation: After undocking, the space shuttle Discovery crew got a memorable view of the developing International Space Station (ISS). Pictured orbiting high above Earth last month, numerous solar panels, trusses, and science modules of the ISS were visible. The Discovery crew brought mission specialist Nicole Stott to the ISS, and returned astronaut Timothy Kopra to Earth. Among the many mission and expedition accomplishments of the Discovery crew included delivering and placing the Fluids Integrated Rack and the Materials Science Research Rack in the Destiny module as well as the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer in the Kibo module. Better known, however, was the delivery of the COLBERT treadmill for keeping astronauts fit. Over this past week the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft carrying three more astronauts docked with the ISS as Expedition 21 is set to begin. The next shuttle trip to the ISS is currently scheduled for 2009 November 12.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 19 - From the Moon to the Earth
Explanation: After the most famous voyage of modern times, it was time to go home. After proving that humanity has the ability to go beyond the confines of planet Earth, the first humans to walk on another world -- Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin -- flew the ascent stage of their Lunar Module back to meet Michael Collins in the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. Pictured above on 1969 July 21, the ascending spaceship was captured by Collins making its approach, with the Moon below, and Earth far in the distance. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the first human moon landing. Recently, NASA's moon-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter sent back the first pictures of most of the Apollo landing sites -- including Apollo 11 -- with enough resolution to see the Lunar Module descent stages left behind.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 May 20 - Above Earth Fixing Hubble
Explanation: What is that astronaut doing? Fixing the Hubble Space Telescope. During the fourth servicing mission to upgrade and fix Hubble, astronaut Michael Good can be seen attached to the shuttle's robotic arm, working in an open panel of Hubble. Far below, the terminator between day and night can be seen across planet Earth. Since Hubble was captured by the space shuttle Atlantis last Wednesday, five long space-walks have been used to fix and upgrade the aging telescope. One of the more ambitious orbital missions yet taken, the toiling astronauts have upgraded the Wide Field Camera, fixed the Advanced Camera for Surveys, repaired the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, and replaced COSTAR with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. Numerous other general repairs included replacing batteries, gyroscopic sensors, and insulation panels. Hubble will now undergo testing as Atlantis prepares to return to Earth later this week.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 January 16 - ISS: Reflections of Earth
Explanation: Remarkable details are visible in this view of the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), recorded with a small telescope on planet Earth through a clear twilight sky. Seen on December 27th at about 75 degrees elevation and some 350 kilometers above the planet's surface, parts of the station, including the Kibo and Columbus science modules, even seem to reflect the Earth's lovely bluish colors. The image also shows off large power generating solar arrays on the station's 90 meter long integrated truss structure Just put your cursor over the picture to identify some of the major parts of the ISS.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 18 - Restored: First Image of the Earth from the Moon
Explanation: Pictured above is the first image ever taken of the Earth from the Moon. The image was taken in 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 1 and heralded by then-journalists as the Image of the Century. It was taken about two years before the Apollo 8 crew snapped its more famous color cousin. Recently, modern technology has allowed the recovery of higher resolution images from old data sources such as Lunar Orbiter tapes than ever before. Specifically, recovery of the above image was initiated 20 years ago by Nancy Evans, and completed recently by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing who lead the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Images like that above carry more than aesthetic value -- comparison to recent high definition images of the Moon enables investigations into how the Moon has been changing.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 5 - Earth at Night
Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 September 3 - 31 Million Miles from Planet Earth
Explanation: On July 4th, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft directed a probe to impact the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1. Still cruising through the solar system, earlier this year the robotic spacecraft looked back to record a series of images of its home world 31 million miles (50 million kilometers) away. In a sequence from top left to bottom right, these four frames from the video show a rotating Earth. They combine visible and near-infrared image data with enough resolution and contrast to see clouds, oceans, and continents. They also follow a remarkable transit of Earth by its large, natural satellite, the Moon. The Moon's orbital motion carries it across the field of view from left to right. Imaging the Earth from this distant perspective allows astronomers to connect overall variations in brightness at different wavelengths with planetary features. The observations will aid in the search for earthlike planets in other planetary systems.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 August 20 - Earth's Shadow
Explanation: The dark, inner shadow of planet Earth is called the umbra. Shaped like a cone extending into space, the umbra has a circular cross section that can be most easily seen during a lunar eclipse. For example, last Saturday the Full Moon slid across the northern edge of the umbra. Entertaining moon watchers throughout Earth's eastern hemisphere, the lunar passage created a deep but partial lunar eclipse. This composite image uses successive pictures recorded during the eclipse from Athens, Greece to trace out a large part of the umbra's curved edge. The result nicely illustrates the relative size of the umbra's cross section at the distance of the Moon, as well as the Moon's path through the Earth's shadow.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 July 22 - Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth
Explanation: What are these humans doing? Dancing. Many humans on Earth exhibit periods of happiness, and one method of displaying happiness is dancing. Happiness and dancing transcend political boundaries and occur in practically every human society. Above, Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, started dancing, and filmed the result. The video is perhaps a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious -- few people are able to watch the above video without smiling.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 30 - Asteroid 2007 TU24 Passes the Earth
Explanation: Asteroid 2007 TU24 passed by the Earth yesterday, posing no danger. The space rock, estimated to be about 250 meters across, coasted by just outside the orbit of Earth's Moon. The passing was not very unusual -- small rocks strike Earth daily, and in 2003 a rock the size of a bus passed inside the orbit of the Moon, being detected only after passing. TU24 was notable partly because it was so large. Were TU24 to have struck land, it might have caused a magnitude seven earthquake and left a city-sized crater. A perhaps larger danger would have occurred were TU24 to have struck the ocean and raised a large tsunami. This radar image was taken two days ago. The Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico broadcast radar that was reflected by the asteroid and then recorded by the Byrd Radio Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. The resulting image shows TU24 to have an oblong and irregular shape. TU24 was discovered only three months ago, indicating that other potentially hazardous asteroids might lurk in our Solar System currently undetected. Objects like TU24 are hard to detect because they are so faint and move so fast. Humanity's ability to scan the sky to detect, catalog, and analyze such objects has increased notably in recent years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 23 - Orbiting Astronaut Reflects Earth
Explanation: Astronaut self-portraits can be particularly interesting. Visible in the above picture, working in from the outer borders, are the edges of the reflecting helmet of a space suit, modules of the International Space Station (ISS), the Earth, the arms of Expedition 15 astronaut Clay Anderson, and the digital camera used to snap the image. This picture was taken during the shuttle orbiter Endeavour's mission to expand the space station last August. The large curvature of the Earth appearing in the visor reflection is not the true curvature of our spherical Earth, but rather an artifact of the curve of the space helmet. Earth's horizon appears only slightly curved when viewed from the height of the ISS -- approximately 400 kilometers. The next space shuttle mission to the space station is currently expected to take place next month and includes the installation of the scientific Columbus Laboratory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 December 27 - Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture actually is a single digital photograph taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 September 22 - Pangea Ultima: Earth in 250 Million Years
Explanation: Is this what will become of the Earth's surface? The surface of the Earth is broken up into several large plates that are slowly shifting. About 250 million years ago, the plates on which the present-day continents rest were positioned quite differently, so that all the landmasses were clustered together in one supercontinent now dubbed Pangea. About 250 million years from now, the plates are again projected to reposition themselves so that a single landmass dominates. The above simulation from the PALEAOMAP Project shows this giant landmass: Pangea Ultima. At that time, the Atlantic Ocean will be just a distant memory, and whatever beings inhabit Earth will be able to walk from North America to Africa.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 June 10 - Looking Back at an Eclipsed Earth
Explanation: Here is what the Earth looks like during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moved across the Earth at nearly 2000 kilometers per hour. Only observers near the center of the dark circle see a total solar eclipse - others see a partial eclipse where only part of the Sun appears blocked by the Moon. This spectacular picture of the 1999 August 11 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station. The two bright spots that appear on the upper left are possibly Jupiter and Saturn, although this has yet to be proven. Mir was deorbited in a controlled re-entry in 2001.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 14 - Rotating Earth from Galileo
Explanation: When passing Earth on your way to Jupiter, what should you look for? That question arose for the robotic Galileo spacecraft that soundlessly coasted past the Solar System's most photographed orb almost two decades ago. The Galileo spacecraft, although originally launched from Earth, coasted past its home world twice in an effort to gain speed and shorten the duration of its trip to Jupiter. During Galileo's first Earth flyby in late 1990, it made a majestically silent home movie of our big blue marble rotating by taking images almost every minute during a 25-hour period. The above picture is one frame from this movie -- clicking on this frame will put it in motion (in many browsers). Visible on Earth are vast blue oceans, swirling white clouds, large golden continents, and even one continent frozen into a white sheet of water-ice. As Galileo passed, it saw a globe that not only rotated but began to recede into the distance. Galileo went on to a historic mission uncovering many secrets and mysteries of Jupiter over the next 14 years, before performing a final spectacular dive into the Jovian atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 20 - Pantheon Earth and Moon
Explanation: Could this be a picture of the Earth and Moon from space? It certainly looks like it at first glance, with a cratered Moon standing off from planet Earth's lovely blue disk surrounded by a nurturing atmosphere. In fact, this view looks up into the dome of the ancient Pantheon in Rome. The Earth's blue disk is really the daytime sky with clouds seen through a nine meter diameter central opening in the dome. The circular opening, or oculus, was intended as the source of light for the building's interior. The Moon is actually direct sunlight streaming through the oculus onto the dome's inner ribbed structure. Historian Soeren Dalsgaard snapped the evocative picture in February and comments that for almost two thousand years the rays of the Sun have traced a steady path on the inside of the Pantheon's cupola. A testament to Roman architecture and engineering, the Pantheon's dome is said to symbolize the vault of the heavens.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 March 25 - Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. The above picture of Earth, dubbed Blue Marble, was taken from Apollo 17 in 1972 and features Africa and Antarctica. It is thought to be one of the most widely distributed photographs of any kind. Earth has a single large Moon that is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 October 1- Earth at Night
Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

(Editor's note: This image has generated many print requests. Unfortunately, we do not sell prints. However, a high-resolution digital version of the image is available here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 27- Earth from Saturn
Explanation: What's that pale blue dot in this image taken from Saturn? Earth. The robotic Cassini spacecraft looked back toward its old home world earlier this month as it orbited Saturn. Using Saturn itself to block the bright Sun, Cassini imaged a faint dot on the right of the above photograph. That dot is expanded on the image inset, where a slight elongation in the direction of Earth's Moon is visible. Vast water oceans make Earth's reflection of sunlight somewhat blue. Earth is home to over six billion humans and over one octillion Prochlorococcus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 July 19 - Reflections on Planet Earth
Explanation: Catching sight of your reflection in a store window or shiny hubcap can be entertaining and occasionally even inspire a thoughtful moment. So consider this reflective view from 300 kilometers above planet Earth. The picture is actually a self-portrait taken by astronaut Michael Fossum on July 8 during a space walk or extravehicular activity while the Discovery orbiter was docked with the International Space Station. Turning his camera to snap a picture of his own helmet visor, he also recorded the reflection of his fellow mission specialist, Piers Sellers, near picture center and one of the space station's gold-tinted solar power arrays arcing across the top. Of course, the horizon of our fair planet lies in background.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 June 3 - Gamma Ray Earth
Explanation: The pixelated planet above is actually our own planet Earth seen in gamma rays - the most energetic form of light. In fact, the gamma rays used to construct this view pack over 35 million electron volts (MeV) compared to a mere two electron volts (eV) for a typical visible light photon. The Earth's gamma-ray glow is indeed very faint, and this image was constructed by combining data from seven years of exposure during the life of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, operating in Earth orbit from 1991 to 2000. Brightest near the edge and faint near the center, the picture indicates that the gamma rays are coming from high in Earth's atmosphere. The gamma rays are produced as the atmosphere interacts with high energy cosmic rays from space, blocking the harmful radiation from reaching the surface. Astronomers need to understand Earth's gamma-ray glow well as it can interfere with observations of cosmic gamma-ray sources like pulsars, supernova remnants, and distant active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 May 23 - Comet Schwassmann Wachmann 3 Passes the Earth
Explanation: Rarely does a comet pass this close to Earth. Last week, dedicated astrofilmographers were able to take advantage of the close approach of crumbling 73P / Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 to make time-lapse movies of the fast-moving comet. Large comet fragments passed about 25 times the Moon's distance from the Earth. The above time lapse movie of Fragment B of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 over Colorado, USA was taken during a single night, May 16, with 83 consecutive 49-second exposures. Some observers report being able to perceive the slight motion of the comet with respect to the background stars using only their binoculars and without resorting to the creation of fancy digital time-lapse movies. Fragment B of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 became just barely visible to the unaided eye two weeks ago but now is appearing to fade as the comet has moved past the Earth and nears the Sun. Many sky enthusiasts will be on the watch for a particularly active meteor shower tonight as the Earth made its closest approach to orbit of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 late yesterday.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 28 - Animation of Asteroids Passing Near Earth
Explanation: How often does an asteroid whiz by the Earth? The above time-lapse animation follows the orbit of the Earth around the Sun for two months in 2002 as numerous asteroids, also known as minor planets, approach and pass by. Some asteroids appear out of nowhere as they are plotted only when they were discovered. Most asteroids plotted were discovered only during the previous year. Although none of the plotted objects came inside the orbit of our Moon, our Solar System is filled with objects as small as bits of sand, usually left by a comet, that appear as meteors as they streak into the Earth's atmosphere every day. The only objects displayed are those visible from Earth closer than 20 million kilometers, color coded by three-dimensional distance. In comparison, the Earth is a relatively small target having a radius of about 6,400 kilometers. One significant research area in modern astronomy involves trying to find the majority of asteroids that could pose a future collision threat with Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 8 - Earth's Shrinking Antarctic Ice Sheet
Explanation: Is the continent at the end of the Earth slowly melting? For millions of years, Antarctica, the frozen continent at the southern end of planet Earth, has been encased in a gigantic sheet of ice. Recently, the orbiting robotic GRACE satellite has been taking sensitive measurements of the gravity for the entire Earth, including Antarctica. Recent analysis of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) data indicate that the Antarctic ice sheet might have lost enough mass to cause the worlds' oceans to rise about 1.2 millimeters, on the average, from between 2002 and 2005. Although this may not seem like much, the equivalent amount of water is about 150 trillion liters, equivalent to the amount of water used by US residents in three months. Uncertainties in the measurement make the mass loss uncertain by about 80 trillion liters. Pictured above is an iceberg that is a small part of the Antarctic ice sheet. The picture was taken on the Riiser-Larsen ice shelf in December 1995. Future research will likely focus on trying to better understand the data, take more data, predict future trends, and understand possible effects of these trends on the future climate of our entire home planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 June 11 - Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture actually is a single digital photograph taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 30 - The Moons of Earth
Explanation: While orbiting the planet during their June 1998 mission, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery photographed this view of two moons of Earth. Thick storm clouds are visible in the lovely blue planet's nurturing atmosphere and, what was then Earth's largest artificial moon, the spindly Russian Mir Space Station can be seen above the planet's limb. The bright spot to the right of Mir is Earth's very large natural satellite, The Moon. The Mir orbited planet Earth once every 90 minutes about 200 miles above the planet's surface or about 4,000 miles from Earth's center. The Moon orbits once every 28 days at a distance of about 250,000 miles from the center of the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 12 - Earth or Mars?
Explanation: Which image is Earth, and which is Mars? One of the above images was taken by the robot Spirit rover currently climbing Husband Hill on Mars. The other image was taken by a human across the desert south of Morocco on Earth. Both images show vast plains covered with rocks and sand. Neither shows water or obvious signs of life. Each planet has a surface so complex that any one image does not do that planet justice. Understanding either one, it turns out, helps understand the other. Does the one on the left look like home? Possibly not, but it is Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 31 - Gamma Ray Earth
Explanation: The pixelated planet above is actually our own planet Earth seen in gamma rays - the most energetic form of light. In fact, the gamma rays used to construct this view pack over 35 million electron volts (MeV) compared to a mere two electron volts (eV) for a typical visible light photon. The Earth's gamma-ray glow is indeed very faint, and this image was constructed by combining data from seven years of exposure during the life of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, operating in Earth orbit from 1991 to 2000. Brightest near the edge and faint near the center, the picture indicates that the gamma rays are coming from high in Earth's atmosphere. The gamma rays are produced as the atmosphere interacts with high energy cosmic rays from space, blocking the harmful radiation from reaching the surface. Astronomers need to understand Earth's gamma-ray glow well as it can interfere with observations of cosmic gamma-ray sources like pulsars, supernova remnants, and distant active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 January 2 - Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon that is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 October 2 - Toutatis Nears Planet Earth
Explanation: On Wednesday, September 29, asteroid Toutatis came within one million miles of Earth -- the closest predicted aproach of a sizable asteroid or comet to our fair planet in this century. Coming within one million miles or about 4 times the Earth-Moon distance, Earth would have appeared to be nearly the size of the full moon in the asteroid's sky. In Earth's sky, Toutatis appeared only as a faint, starlike, but rapidly moving object. Even so, asteroid 4179 Toutatis was still bright enough to see in small telescopes. Astronomers John Chumack, observing near Dayton Ohio, and Juergen Wolf from near Palo Alto, California, offer these composite images showing the progress of the asteroid (seen as a series of dots) against a background of distant stars. Their multiple exposures span a two hour period on two different days about a week before the asteroid's record close approach, which tracked through night skies south of the celestial equator.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 October 1 - Earth Nears Asteroid Toutatis
Explanation: On Wednesday, September 29, the Earth came within one million miles of the asteroid Toutatis -- the closest predicted aproach of our fair planet to a sizable asteroid or comet in this century. Coming within one million miles or about 4 times the Earth-Moon distance, Earth would appear to be nearly the size of the full moon in the asteroid's sky, as suggested in this illustration. In Earth's sky, Toutatis appeared only as a faint object rapidly moving against a background of stars. Also known as Earth-crossing asteroid 4179, Toutatis is in an eccentric 4 year orbit which moves it from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to just inside Earth's orbit. When the Earth passed near it in 1992 Toutatis was imaged by radar and seen to be two irregularly shaped lumps, perhaps joined by a narrow neck. This bizarre object is up to 1.5 miles wide, 3 miles long, and is tumbling through space. Studies of Toutatis and other Earth-crossing asteroids help reveal connections between the Solar System's meteorites, main-belt asteroids and comets. These asteroids also offer tantalizing targets for robotic exploration and, over time, represent potential collision hazards for planet Earth!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 26 - Looking Back on an Eclipsed Earth
Explanation: Here is what the Earth looks like during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moved across the Earth at nearly 2000 kilometers per hour. Only observers near the center of the dark circle see a total solar eclipse - others see a partial eclipse where only part of the Sun appears blocked by the Moon. This spectacular picture of the 1999 August 11 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station, which was deorbited in a controlled re-entry in 2001.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 19 - Earth's North Magnetic Pole
Explanation: A magnetic compass does not point toward the true North Pole of the Earth. Rather, it more closely points toward the North Magnetic Pole of the Earth. The North Magnetic Pole is currently located in northern Canada. It wanders in an elliptical path each day, and moves, on the average, more than forty meters northward each day. Evidence indicates that the North Magnetic Pole has wandered over much of the Earth's surface in the 4.5 billion years since the Earth formed. The Earth's magnetic field is created by Earth's partially ionized outer core, which rotates more rapidly than the Earth's surface. Indicated in the above picture is Ellef Ringnes Island, the location of Earth's North Magnetic Pole in 1994.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 August 22 - Earth at Night
Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

(Editor's note: This image has become an email-attachment phenomenon! It has also generated many print requests. Unfortunately, we do not sell prints. However, a high-resolution digital version of the image is available (click here or here).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 August 18 - Lightning on Earth
Explanation: Nobody knows what causes lightning. It is known that charges slowly separate in some clouds causing rapid electrical discharges (lightning), but how electrical charges get separated in clouds remains a topic of much research. Nevertheless, lightning bolts are common in clouds during rainstorms, and on average 6000 lightning bolts occur between clouds and the Earth every minute. Above, several lightning strokes were photographed under a starry sky behind Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. Lightning has also been found on the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. NASA launched the TRMM mission in 1997 that continues to measure rainfall and lightning on planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 May 16 - Venus: Earth's Cloudy Twin
Explanation: This picture by the Galileo spacecraft shows just how cloudy Venus is. Venus is very similar to Earth in size and mass - and so is sometimes referred to as Earth's sister planet - but Venus has a quite different climate. Venus' thick clouds and closeness to the Sun (only Mercury is closer) make it the hottest planet - much hotter than the Earth. Humans could not survive there, and no life of any sort has ever been found. When Venus is visible it is usually the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. More than 20 spacecraft have visited Venus including Venera 9, which landed on the surface, and Magellan, which used radar to peer through the clouds and make a map of the surface. This visible light picture of Venus was taken by the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Many things about Venus remain unknown, including the cause of mysterious bursts of radio waves.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 23 - Heaven on Earth
Explanation: If sometimes it appears that the entire Milky Way Galaxy is raining down on your head, do not despair. It happens twice a day. As the Sun rises in the East, wonders of the night sky become less bright than the sunlight scattered by our own Earth's atmosphere, and so fade from view. They will only rotate back into view when the Earth again eclipses our bright Sun at dusk. This battle between heaven and Earth was captured dramatically in a digitally enhanced double-exposure over the Kofa Mountains in Arizona, USA in 2003 May. Dark dust, millions of stars, and bright glowing red gas highlight the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, which lies on average thousands of light years behind Earth's mountains.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 23 - GRACE Maps the Gravity of Earth
Explanation: Why do some places on Earth have higher gravity than others? Sometimes the reason is unknown. To help better understand the Earth's surface, slight distance changes between a pair of identically orbiting satellites named GRACE have been used to create the best ever map of Earth's gravitational field. High points on this map, also colored red, indicate areas where gravity is slightly stronger than usual, while in blue areas gravity is slightly weaker. Many bumps and valleys on the map can be attributed to surface features, such as the North Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Himalayan Mountains, but others cannot, and so might relate to unusually high or low sub-surface densities. Maps like this also help calibrate changes in the Earth's surface including variable ocean currents and the melting of glaciers.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 22 - A Tornado on Planet Earth
Explanation: Large storms on Earth can spawn unusual, small, violent clouds known as tornadoes. Tornado clouds swirl as fast as hundreds of kilometers per hour and, when they touch down, can destroy nearly everything in their long, narrow path. Many tornadoes last only a few minutes, but the largest and most dangerous can endure for hours. The above image, although somewhat unfocussed, appears to show a dropping funnel cloud interacting with a light pole. If so, and this interpretation is controversial, this photograph would be one of the few indicating a clear distance to the funnel cloud. The pictured tornado occurred in 1981 in Dallas, Texas, USA. Tornadoes occur all over Earth but are most commonly found over parts of central North America during spring. Much about tornadoes remains under study, including predicting when they will occur.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 14 - The Satellites that Surround Earth
Explanation: Thousands of satellites orbit the Earth. Costing billions of dollars, this swarm of high altitude robots is now vital to communication, orientation, and imaging both Earth and space. One common type of orbit is geostationary where a satellite will appear to hover above one point on Earth's equator. Geostationary orbits are very high up -- over five times the radius of the Earth -- and possible only because the satellite orbital period is exactly one day. It is usually cheaper to place a satellite in low Earth orbit, around 500 kilometers, just high enough to avoid the effect of Earth's atmosphere. The above animated sequence starts by showing the halo of Earth's satellites, including the ring at geostationary, and finishes by zooming in on the only one currently hosting humans: the International Space Station.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 June 21 - A Crescent Earth at Midnight
Explanation: The Earth's northern hemisphere is outlined as a sunlit crescent in this dramatic view from orbit, recorded near local midnight by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-8) on June 22, 1996. That date was two days after the Solstice, by astronomical reckoning, the first day of summer in the north and winter in the southern hemisphere. Today's scheduled geocentric astronomical event is again the northern hemisphere's summer Solstice, with the Sun reaching its northernmost declination at 19 hours 10 minutes Universal Time. That makes today also the longest day of the year in the north, with the arctic regions near the top of the picture experiencing 24 hours of daylight. Looking south along the Earth's limb, atmospheric scattering of sunlight causes the limb to be visible beyond areas directly illuminated by the sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 May 26 - The Earth and Moon from Mars
Explanation: What does Earth look like from Mars? The first image of Earth from the red planet was captured earlier this month by the camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft currently orbiting Mars. Features visible on Earth include the Pacific Ocean, clouds, much of South America, and part of North America. Earth's Moon is visible on the upper right, with the crater Tycho brightening the lower part. Previously, Earth has been imaged from the Moon and spacecraft across the Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 April 26 - Big Blue Marble Earth
Explanation: This reconstructed digital portrait of our planet is reminiscent of the Apollo-era pictures of the "big blue marble" Earth from space. To create it, researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center's Laboratory for Atmospheres combined data from a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES), the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS), and the Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES) with a USGS elevation model of Earth's topography. Stunningly detailed, the planet's western hemisphere is cast so that heavy vegetation is green and sparse vegetation is yellow, while the heights of mountains and depths of valleys have been exaggerated by 50 times to make vertical relief visible. Hurricane Linda is the dramatic storm off North America's west coast. And what about the Moon? The lunar image was reconstructed from GOES data and artistically rescaled for this visualization.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 April 24 - Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture actually is a single digital photograph taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 November 25 - The Earth's Magnetic Field
Explanation: Why does the Earth have a magnetic field? The electrical conductivity of the molten plasma of the Earth's core should be able to damp the current magnetic field in only thousands of years. Yet our five billion year old Earth clearly causes magnets to point to (defined) north. The mystery is still being studied but recently thought related to motions in the Earth's liquid outer core. Specifically, as portions of the outer core cool and fall inward, oceans of the liquid iron-rich magma rise outward, forced into a helical motion by the spin of the Earth. This motion, many geologists now believe, regenerates Earth's magnetism. Pictured above, a computer simulation shows the resulting magnetic field lines out to two Earth radii, with blue lines directed inward and yellow lines directed outward.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 18 - Earth's North Magnetic Pole
Explanation: A magnetic compass does not point toward the true North Pole of the Earth. Rather, it more closely points toward the North Magnetic Pole of the Earth. The North Magnetic Pole is currently located in northern Canada. It wanders in an elliptical path each day, and moves, on the average, more than forty meters northward each day. Evidence indicates that the North Magnetic Pole has wandered over much of the Earth's surface in the 4.5 billion years since the Earth formed. The Earth's magnetic field is created by Earth's partially ionized outer core, which rotates more rapidly than the Earth's surface. Indicated in the above picture is Ellef Ringnes Island, the location of Earth's North Magnetic Pole in 1999.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 10 - Earth at Night
Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

(Editor's note: This image has become an email-attachment phenomenon! It has also generated many print requests. Unfortunately, we do not sell prints. However, a high-resolution digital version of the image is available (click here or here).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 May 4 - The Moons of Earth
Explanation: While orbiting the planet during their June 1998 mission, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery photographed this view of two moons of Earth. Thick storm clouds are visible in the lovely blue planet's nurturing atmosphere and, what was then Earth's largest artificial moon, the spindly Russian Mir Space Station can be seen above the planet's limb. The bright spot to the right of Mir is Earth's very large natural satellite, The Moon. The Mir orbited planet Earth once every 90 minutes about 200 miles above the planet's surface or about 4,000 miles from Earth's center. The Moon orbits once every 28 days at a distance of about 250,000 miles from the center of the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 5 - Earth in True Color
Explanation: Here are the true colors of planet Earth. Blue oceans dominate our world, while areas of green forest, brown mountains, tan desert, and white ice are also prominent. Oceans appear blue not only because water itself is blue but also because seawater frequently scatters light from a blue sky. Forests appear green because they contain chlorophyll, a pigment that preferentially absorbs red light. The above image is a composite generated predominantly with data from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), an instrument mounted on the Terra satellite that has orbited Earth since 1999 December. Sub-areas were imaged only when experiencing cloud-free daylight when it occurred from June through September 2001. The Earth looks much different at night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 12 - Methane Earth
Explanation: Can you help in reducing this blanket of methane gas that is warming up our Earth? Recent evidence holds that methane (CH4) is second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in creating a warming greenhouse effect but is easier to control. Atmospheric methane has doubled over the past 200 years, and its smothering potency is over 20 times that of CO2. Methane may even be responsible for a sudden warming of the Earth by seven degrees Celsius about 55 million years ago. As most methane is produced biologically, the gas is sometimes associated with bathroom humor. The largest abundance released by the US, however, is created when anaerobic bacteria break down carbon-based garbage in landfills. Therefore, a more effective way to help our planet than trying to restrict your own methane emissions would be to encourage efficient landfill gas management.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 27 - Earth Rise
Explanation: During 1968, the Apollo 8 crew flew from the Earth to the Moon and back. The crew, consisting of Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, were launched atop a Saturn V rocket on December 21, circled the Moon ten times in their command module, and landed back on Earth on December 27. The Apollo 8 mission's impressive list of firsts includes: the first humans to journey to the Earth's Moon, the first manned flight using the Saturn V, and the first to photograph the Earth from deep space. The famous picture above, showing the Earth rising above the Moon's limb as seen from lunar orbit, was a marvelous gift to the world.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 December 24 - Asteroid 1998 WT24 Passes Near Earth
Explanation: Last week, an asteroid approached unusually close to the Earth. Passing well outside the orbit of our Moon, Asteroid 1998 WT24 posed no danger, but became bright enough to see with binoculars and to track with radar. Pictured above, the kilometer-sized asteroid was imaged crossing the sky on December 14, two days before closest approach. Every few years, an asteroid will actually pass inside the orbit of the Moon. Large impact features on the Earth are testaments to asteroids or comets that actually impacted the Earth in the distant past. Astronomers continue to discover, track, and study potentially hazardous asteroids with a goal of making planet Earth a safer place.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 November 13 - A Gravity Map of Earth
Explanation: Is gravity the same over the surface of the Earth? No -- it turns out that in some places you will feel slightly heavier than others. The above relief map shows in exaggerated highs and lows where the gravitational field of Earth is relatively strong and weak. A low spot can be seen just off the coast of India, while a relative high occurs in the South Pacific Ocean. The cause of these irregularities is unknown since present surface features do not appear dominant. Scientists hypothesize that factors that are more important lay in deep underground structures and may be related to the Earth's appearance in the distant past. To better map Earth's gravity and hence better understand its interior and past, NASA plans to launch the Gravity Recovery and Climate (GRACE) satellite in February.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 15 - The Earth and Moon Planetary System
Explanation: How similar in size are the Earth and the Moon? A dramatic visual answer to this question is found by combining photographs taken by the Mariner 10 spacecraft that headed out toward Venus and Mercury in 1973. The Moon can be seen to have a diameter over one quarter that of Earth, relatively large compared to its planetary companion. In our Solar System, only Pluto and Charon are closer together in size. Striking features of the Earth visible to the passing spacecraft include blue oceans and white clouds, showing the Earth to be truly a water world.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 July 18 - Mars from Earth
Explanation: Last month, Mars and Earth were right next to each other in their orbits. Formally called opposition, the event was highlighted by a very bright Mars for skywatchers and a good photo opportunity for the Hubble Space Telescope. Above, Hubble snapped the highest resolution picture of Mars ever obtained from the Earth. Visible on Mars are ice caps over the poles in white, regions covered with sand and gravel in dark brown and orange, and large dust storms in light orange. A particularly large dust storm can be seen on the lower right pouring out of Hellas Basin. This storm has since erupted into a huge planet wide storm that continues even today. Pictures like these allow planetary astronomers to continue to compare the weather patterns of Mars and Earth. When Mars next reaches opposition in 2003, its elliptical orbit will cause it to be even 20 percent closer.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 July 9 - Air Pollution Earth
Explanation: Where on Earth is the air most polluted? Recently released images from the Terra satellite show not only areas of high pollution, but also how polluted air moves. In the above image, locations of higher air pollution are shown in red. The pollutant tracked is carbon monoxide (CO) at a height of about 5 kilometers. Clearly, Earth's Northern Hemisphere shows much more CO than the south. The new data indicate, however, that pollution moves on a global scale. About half of all CO emission is of human origin, and much of this is created in large fires.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 February 4 - Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon that is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 31 - Earth's Plasmasphere
Explanation: Our Earth is surrounded by plasma. The overall shape that this ionized gas plasmasphere takes was discovered last year by NASA's robot IMAGE spacecraft, and shown in the recently released above image in ultraviolet light. The arm of the plasmasphere pointing toward the Sun, on the lower right, was hypothesized but never before seen directly. The Earth's shadow can be seen pointing away from the Sun. The bright regions in the center are full auroral rings over northern Earth, visible as northern lights from the ground. The plasmasphere is thought created by sunlight energizing molecules in Earth's upper atmosphere and is contained by Earth's magnetic field. IMAGE continues to study how solar magnetic storms affect Earth and its magnetic field.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 27 - The Moons Of Earth
Explanation: While orbiting the planet during their June 1998 mission, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery photographed this view of two moons of Earth. Thick storm clouds are visible in the lovely blue planet's nurturing atmosphere and its largest artificial moon, the spindly Russian Mir space station, can be seen above the planet's limb. The bright spot to the right of Mir is Earth's very large natural satellite, The Moon. The Mir orbits planet Earth once every 90 minutes about 200 miles above the planet's surface or about 4,000 miles from Earth's center. The Moon orbits once every 28 days at a distance of about 250,000 miles from the center of the Earth. Russia now plans to deorbit the Mir space station after 15 years of operation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 31 - The Millennium that Defined Earth
Explanation: When the second millennium began, people generally knew that the Earth was round, but few saw much of it beyond their local village. As the millennium progressed, humans mapped the continents, circumnavigated the globe, and determined the composition of the Earth. The Earth started as the center of everything, but became a planet placed in the Solar System, which became placed in a Galaxy, which became placed in the Local Group of Galaxies, which became placed in an expanse so vast we call it just the Universe. As millennium two ends people generally know what Earth looks like from afar, and how it is that all of humanity is confined to the surface of this fragile and watery globe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 3 - Earth's North Magnetic Pole
Explanation: A magnetic compass does not point toward the true North Pole of the Earth. Rather, it more closely points toward the North Magnetic Pole of the Earth. The North Magnetic Pole is currently located in northern Canada. It wanders in an elliptical path each day, and moves, on the average, more than forty meters northward each day. Evidence indicates that the North Magnetic Pole has wandered over much of the Earth's surface in the 4.5 billion years since the Earth formed. The Earth's magnetic field is created by Earth's partially ionized outer core, which rotates more rapidly than the Earth's surface. Indicated in the above picture is Ellef Ringnes Island, the current location of Earth's North Magnetic Pole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 27 - Earth at Night
Explanation: This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the eastern United States, and Japan. Many large cities are located near rivers or oceans so that they can exchange goods cheaply by boat. Particularly dark areas include the central parts of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The above image is actually a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the orbiting DMSP satellites.

(Editor's note: Contrary to some recent press reports, this site does not have a rotating screensaver version of the above image. Also, unfortunately, we do not sell prints. However, a high-resolution digital version of the image is available (click here or here) and an Earth at Night poster similar to this image can be ordered (click here) from other web sites.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 21 - Fire on Earth
Explanation: Sometimes, regions of planet Earth can be seen lit up with fire. Since fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and since oxygen is a key indicator of life, fire on any planet would be an indicator of life on that planet. Most of the Earth's land has been scorched by fire at some time in the past. Although causing many a tragedy, fire is considered part of a natural ecosystem cycle. The year 2000 fire season in the continental United States has been one of the most active on record, burning an area similar in size to New Jersey. Large forest fires on Earth are usually caused by lightning and can be visible from orbit. Above, stunned Elk avoid a fire sweeping through Montana's Bitterroot Valley by standing in a river.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 6 - Heaven on Earth
Explanation: If sometimes it appears that the entire Milky Way Galaxy is raining down on your head, do not despair. It happens twice a day. As the Sun rises in the East, wonders of the night sky become less bright than the sunlight scattered by our own Earth's atmosphere, and so fade from view. They will only rotate back into view when the Earth again eclipses our bright Sun at dusk. This battle between heaven and Earth was captured dramatically above during the last few minutes of daylight on 1999 August 10 in Koumi, Japan. Dark dust, millions of stars, and bright glowing red gas highlight the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, which lies on average thousands of light years behind Earth's yellow and green reflecting clouds.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 October 8 - Earth's Richat Structure
Explanation: What on Earth is that? The Richat Structure in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania is easily visible from space because it is nearly 50 kilometers across. Once thought to be an impact crater, the Richat Structure's flat middle and lack of shock-altered rock indicates otherwise. The possibility that the Richat Structure was formed by a volcanic eruption also seems improbable because of the lack of a dome of igneous or volcanic rock. Rather, the layered sedimentary rock of the Richat structure is now thought by many to have been caused by uplifted rock sculpted by erosion. Why the Richat Structure is nearly circular remains a mystery.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 October 2 - Pangea Ultima: Earth in 250 Million Years
Explanation: Is this what will become of the Earth's surface? The surface of the Earth is broken up into several large plates that are slowly shifting. About 250 million years ago, the plates on which the present-day continents rest were positioned quite differently, so that all the landmasses were clustered together in one supercontinent now dubbed Pangea. About 250 million years from now, the plates are again projected to reposition themselves so that a single landmass dominates. The above simulation from the PALEAOMAP Project shows this giant landmass: Pangea Ultima. At that time, the Atlantic Ocean will be just a distant memory, and whatever beings inhabit Earth will be able to walk from North America to Africa.

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 July 17 - Lightning on Earth
Explanation: Nobody knows what causes lightning. It is known that charges slowly separate in some clouds causing rapid electrical discharges (lightning), but how electrical charges get separated in clouds remains a topic of much research. Nevertheless, lightning bolts are common in clouds during rainstorms, and on average 6000 lightning bolts occur between clouds and the Earth every minute. Above, several lightning strokes were photographed behind Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Lightning has also been found on the planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. NASA launched the TRMM mission in 1997 that continues to measure rainfall and lightning on planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 July 1 - Ultraviolet Earth from the Moon
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 aurorae and are caused by charged particles expelled by the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 May 28 - Skylab Over Earth
Explanation: Skylab was an orbiting laboratory launched by a Saturn V rocket in May 1973. Skylab was visited three times by NASA astronauts who sometimes stayed as long as two and a half months. Many scientific tests were performed on Skylab, including astronomical observations in ultraviolet and X-ray light. Some of these observations yielded valuable information about Comet Kohoutek, our Sun and about the mysterious X-ray background - radiation that comes from all over the sky. Skylab fell back to earth on 11 July 1979.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 March 25 - The Earth Also Rises
Explanation: The Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft was launched in 1966 to map the lunar surface in preparation for the Apollo moon landings. NASA's plucky robotic explorer performed its job well and pioneered this classic view of the Earth poised above the lunar horizon. The first humans to directly witness a similar scene were the Apollo 8 astronauts. As they orbited the Moon in December of 1968 they also recorded Earth rise in a photograph that was to become one of the most famous images in history - a moving portrait of our world from deep space.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 March 3 - Dust Storm on Planet Earth
Explanation: From low Earth orbit, NASA's SeaWIFS instrument records ocean color, tracking changes in our water world's climate and biosphere. But even an ocean planet can have dust storms. On February 26th, SeaWIFS returned this dramatic close-up view of a vast, developing cloud of Saharan desert dust blowing from northwest Africa (lower right) a thousand miles or more out over the Atlantic Ocean. While there are indications that the planet-spanning effects of the Saharan dust events include the decline of the ecologies of coral reefs in the Caribbean and an increased frequency of Atlantic hurricanes, there is also evidence that the dust provides nutrients to the Amazonian rain forests. From space-based vantage points, other satellite images have also revealed storms which transport massive quantities of fine sand and dust across Earth's oceans.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 31 - Snowstorm on Planet Earth
Explanation: Earth is an ocean planet. From low Earth orbit, the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) instrument onboard NASA's SeaStar spacecraft globally maps ocean color, tracking changes in the climate and biosphere of our water world. Richly detailed SeaWiFS images can also follow color changes in Earth's landmasses as illustrated in this close-up picture of the planet. Taken on January 27, it covers the Great Lakes region and Atlantic coastal areas of the North American continent. The space-based perspective splendidly reveals the extent of fractal white seasonal solid phase H20 recently sprinkled over the Northeastern and Midatlantic US. Unanticipated and intense, the snowstorm delighted school children but caused serious disruptions in many locales.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 5 - Earth, Moon, Hubble
Explanation: The Space Shuttle Discovery Crew was fortunate enough to witness one of the brighter full moon's from orbit two weeks ago during their mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. Pictured on the left, the horizon of the Earth is visible below this full Moon, which is below the edge of the Hubble Space Telescope. The full Moon on this day, last December 22, was a few percent brighter than average because it was full at nearly the same time it was at its closest to the Earth, which comes at a time when the Earth is relatively close to the Sun. The Shuttle Crew successfully showered Hubble with needed holiday gifts, including six new gyroscopes, a new computer, and new batteries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 31, 1999 - The Millennium that Defined Earth
Explanation: When the second millennium began, people generally knew that the Earth was round, but few saw much of it beyond their local village. As the millennium progressed, humans mapped the continents, circumnavigated the globe, and determined the composition of the Earth. The Earth started as the center of everything, but became a planet placed in the Solar System, which became placed in a Galaxy, which became placed in the Local Group of Galaxies, which became placed in an expanse so vast we call it just the Universe. As millennium two ends people generally know what Earth looks like from afar, and how it is that all of humanity is confined to the surface of this fragile and watery globe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 19, 1999 - Earth's North Magnetic Pole
Explanation: A magnetic compass does not point toward the true North Pole of the Earth. Rather, it more closely points toward the North Magnetic Pole of the Earth. The North Magnetic Pole is currently located in northern Canada. It wanders in an elliptical path each day, and moves, on the average, more than forty meters northward each day. Evidence indicates that the North Magnetic Pole has wandered over much of the Earth's surface in the 4.5 billion years since the Earth formed. The Earth's magnetic field is created by Earth's partially ionized outer core, which rotates more rapidly than the Earth's surface. Indicated in the above picture is Ellef Ringnes Island, the current location of Earth's North Magnetic Pole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 30, 1999 - Looking Back on an Eclipsed Earth
Explanation: Here is what the Earth looks like during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moves across the Earth at nearly 2000 kilometers per hour. Only observers near the center of the dark circle see a total solar eclipse - others see a partial eclipse where only part of the Sun appears blocked by the Moon. This spectacular picture of the 1999 August 11 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station, as Mir is being decommissioned after more than ten years of productive use.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 14, 1999 - Landsat 7 Views Planet Earth
Explanation: Launched last month, NASA's Landsat 7 spacecraft now orbits planet Earth. Looking down from an altitude of 700 km, Landsat 7 can map the planet's surface in visible and infrared bands and resolve features 30 meters across or smaller. For example, this striking engineering test image is a natural-looking color composite of 3 different visible wavelength bands. It nicely shows details of urban areas around San Francisco, California, USA, nestled in the surrounding terrain (north is up). Flowing blue-green colors track the spring runoff from the Sierras to the west and neighboring mountains into the bay and out into the Pacific ocean. Landsat 7 is currently performing well in its check out phase and controllers are preparing the satellite for regular operations.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 31, 1999 - Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon which is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 4, 1998 - Nozomi: Earth and Moon
Explanation: Japan launched its first mission to orbit Mars, Nozomi (Hope), on July 3rd from the Kagoshima Space Center on the island of Kyushu. Nozomi's goal is to explore the Martian atmosphere and magnetic field as well as regions of the planet's surface and moons. Formerly known as Planet B, the spacecraft will use highly elliptical orbits with successive Earth/Moon flybys to help slingshot itself along its ultimate trajectory toward Mars, arriving at the red planet in October 1999. This stunning picture of the crescent Earth-Moon system was taken by Nozomi's onboard camera on July 18 from a point in space about 100,000 miles from the Earth and 320,000 miles from the Moon. Vibrant and bright, the reflective clouds and oceans of Earth contrast strongly with the dark, somber tones of the lunar surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 13, 1998 - The Moons Of Earth
Explanation: While orbiting the planet during their June 1998 mission, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery photographed this view of two moons of Earth. Thick storm clouds are visible in the lovely blue planet's nurturing atmosphere and its largest artificial moon, the spindly Russian Mir Space Station, can be seen above the planet's limb. The bright spot to the right of Mir is Earth's very large natural satellite, The Moon. The Mir orbits planet Earth once every 90 minutes about 200 miles above the planet's surface or about 4,000 miles from Earth's center. The Moon orbits once every 28 days at a distance of about 250,000 miles from the center of the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 4, 1998 - A Passing Spaceship Views Earth
Explanation: This is how Earth appeared to the passing spacecraft NEAR. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft was launched from Florida, USA, planet Earth in 1996. After a quick flyby of asteroid Mathilde in June last year, NEAR passed the Earth two weeks ago on its way to asteroid 433 Eros. Visible on the above representative-color picture is the western part of Earth's Southern Hemisphere. Prominent features include the white snow-covered Antarctica and swirling and extended cloud systems. Oceans appear blue and part of South America is visible on the right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 29, 1998 - The Earth-Moon System
Explanation: This evocative mosaic image of the Earth-Moon system was recorded by NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft earlier this month. The relative sizes shown are appropriate for viewing both the Earth and Moon from a distance of about 250,000 miles, although the apparent brightness of the Moon has been increased by about a factor of five for the sake of appearances. This space-based perspective is a unique one, the bland and somber Lunar Southern Hemisphere contrasting strongly with blue oceans, swirling clouds, and the bright icy white continent of Antarctica on planet Earth. Though its lack of atmosphere and oceans make it relatively dull looking, the Earth's moon is one of the largest moons in the solar system - even larger than the planet Pluto. During this recent flyby of the Earth-Moon system, the NEAR spacecraft used Earth's gravity to deflect it towards its ultimate destination, the Asteroid 433 Eros. It is scheduled to arrive at Eros in January 1999.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 26, 1998 - Interplanetary Spaceship Passes Earth
Explanation: Last Thursday an interplanetary spacecraft flew right past the Earth. The above images show sunlight momentarily reflected from this spacecraft's solar panels. No aliens were involved - the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission actually originated from Earth. Launched in 1996, NEAR zipped past the asteroid 253 Mathilde last June. This Earth flyby gravitationally deflects NEAR onto a trajectory passing the asteroid 433 Eros next year. Above, NEAR appears to move through the constellation of Perseus, as clouds created a changing diffuse white glow. NEAR was only visible for about 2 minutes from San Jose, California, where these image-intensified video camera observations were taken.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 26, 1997 - Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon which is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 18, 1997 - Asteroid 3753: Earth's Curious Companion
Explanation: Earth is not alone. It orbits the Sun with a small companion: Asteroid 3753. First discovered in 1986 and designated 1986 OT, this five kilometer rock was recently found to orbit the Sun while executing a strange dance with the Earth. A portion of the asteroid's complex orbit is shown above. As the Earth orbits once, Asteroid 3753 follows the yellow line - while also orbiting the Sun. Each time around, however, the yellow kidney-bean traced by Asteroid 3753 shifts slightly - eventually going from trailing the Earth to leading the Earth. Every 385 years the cycle repeats. Because the plane of 3753's orbit is tilted when compared to the Earth's orbit, the two will never collide. In autumn 1997, Asteroid 3753 will pass below the Earth's South Pole at about 100 times the distance to the Moon. It will, however, be very faint - about 15th magnitude - 10,000 times fainter than the dimmest star without a telescope. Suggestions are being taken for a good name for this asteroid.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 27, 1997 - Moonrise, Planet Earth
Explanation: During the Astro-1 astronomy mission of December, 1990, Space Shuttle astronauts photographed this stunning view of the full moon rising above the Earth's limb. In the foreground, towering clouds of condensing water vapor mark the extent of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's life-sustaining atmosphere. Strongly scattering blue sunlight, the upper atmospheric layer, the stratosphere, fades dramatically to the black background of space. Moon and clouds are strong visual elements of many well known portraits of Planet Earth, including Ansel Adams' famous "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico", photographed in November of 1941.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 30, 1997 - Earth's Temperature
Explanation: What's the temperature outside? No matter where you are on Earth, the above map can tell you. This global montage was created using the temperature data from numerous satellites orbiting the Earth. This map indicates temperatures recorded early on January 26th, 1997, but an even more recent map -- updated every 6 hours -- is usually available. For ocean colors on the map, lighter shades of blue indicate warmer temperatures, while for the land, red hues indicate relative warmth. Just looking at the map one can see that summer warms Earth's southern hemisphere, while winter chills Earth's northern hemisphere. The key at the bottom lists temperatures in degrees Centigrade that can be easily converted to degrees Fahrenheit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 20, 1997 - Earth Nears Asteroid Toutatis
Explanation: On November 29, 1996 the Earth came within 3.3 million miles of the asteroid Toutatis. Above is a computer simulated picture of this spectacle from the surface of Toutatis (a 2.5 degree field of view looking toward Earth). In Earth's sky, Toutatis appeared only as a faint object moving against a background of stars. Also known as Earth-crossing asteroid 4179, Toutatis is in an eccentric 4 year orbit which moves it from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to just inside Earth's orbit. When the Earth passed near it in 1992 Toutatis was imaged by radar and seen to be two irregularly shaped lumps, perhaps joined by a narrow neck. This bizarre object is up to 1.5 miles wide, 2.9 miles long, and is tumbling through space. In the year 2004, on September 29, the Earth will pass very near Toutatis, closing to within a million miles (4 times the Earth-Moon distance) - the closest approach predicted for any asteroid or comet between now and 2060. Studies of Toutatis and other Earth-crossing asteroids help reveal connections between the Solar System's meteorites,main-belt asteroids and comets. These wayward asteroids also offer tantalizing targets for robotic exploration and, over time, represent potential collision hazards for planet Earth!

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: September 23, 1996 - Venus: Earth's Cloudy Twin
Explanation: If Venus weren't so cloudy it would be more similar to Earth. This picture by the Galileo spacecraft shows just how cloudy Venus is. Venus is very similar to Earth in size and mass - and so is sometimes referred to as Earth's sister planet - but Venus has a quite different climate. Venus' thick clouds and closeness to the Sun (only Mercury is closer) make it the hottest planet - much hotter than the Earth. Humans could not survive there, and no life of any sort has ever been found. When Venus is visible it is usually the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. More than 20 spacecraft have visited Venus including Venera 9, which landed on the surface, and Magellan, which used radar to peer through the clouds and make a map of the surface. This visible light picture of Venus was taken by the Galileo spacecraft now in orbit around Jupiter. Many things about Venus remain unknown, including the cause of mysterious bursts of radio waves.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 19, 1996 - Welcome to Planet Earth
Explanation: Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon which is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

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: March 25, 1996 - Comet Hyakutake Passes the Earth
Explanation: This picture of Comet Hyakutake taken the night of March 21/22 in Illinois, USA shows the enormous tail that has already developed. The silhouette on the right is a foreground tree, and the superposed green circle on the left shows the size of the full moon. Today Comet Hyakutake makes its closest approach to the Earth. As the comet moves into the inner Solar System, it will pass the Earth at about 40 times the distance of our Moon. This is not the closest a comet has ever come, though. As recently as 1983 Comet IRAS-Araki-Alcock came three times closer than Hyakutake, and in 1770 Comet Lexell got yet twice closer than that! Asteroids - usually less massive than comets - frequently whiz by inside the Moon's orbit, with four doing so far in this decade. In the distant past, asteroids have even struck the Earth. Comet Hyakutake is much brighter now than Comet IRAS-Araki-Alcock ever got, and in fact is the brightest since Comet West in 1976. Comet Hyakutake will be easily visible all week.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 25, 1995 - Earth Rise
Explanation: During the 1968 Christmas season Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders flew the Apollo 8 command module From the Earth to the Moon and back (launched Dec. 21, achieved 10 lunar orbits, landed Dec. 27). The Apollo 8 mission's impressive list of firsts includes; the first manned flight using the Saturn V rocket, the first humans to journey to the Earth's Moon, and the first to photograph the Earth from deep space. The famous picture above, showing the Earth rising above the Moon's limb as seen from lunar orbit, was a marvelous gift to the world. This was astronaut James Lovell's third mission. His last flight would be as commander of Apollo 13.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 3, 1995 - Earth's Moon, A Familiar Face
Explanation: The above mosaic of the Earth's Moon was compiled from photos taken by the spacecraft Clementine in 1994. This image represents the side of the Moon familiar to Earth dwellers. The Moon revolves around the Earth about once every 28 days. Since its rate of rotation about its axis is also once in 28 days, it always keeps the same face toward the Earth. As the Moon travels around its orbit, the Earth based view of the half of the Moon that faces the Sun changes causing the regular monthly progression of Lunar phases. Humans first crashed a spacecraft into the Moon in 1959, but the first humans to reach the Moon landed in 1969. There are now golf balls on the Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 15, 1995 - Venus: Earth's Sister Planet
Explanation: This picture in visible light was taken by the Galileo spacecraft. Venus is very similar to Earth in size and mass - and so is sometimes referred to as Earth's sister planet - but Venus has a quite different climate. Venus' thick clouds and closeness to the Sun (only Mercury is closer) make it the hottest planet - much hotter than the Earth. Humans could not survive there, and no life of any sort has ever been found. When Venus is visible it is usually the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. More than 20 spacecraft have visited Venus including Venera 9, which landed on the surface, and Magellan, which used radar to peer through the clouds and make a map of the surface. There are still many things about Venus's unusual atmosphere that astronomers don't understand.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 29, 1995 - The Earth-Moon System
Explanation: A double planet? From 4 million miles away on December 16, 1992, NASA's robot spacecraft Galileo took this picture of the Earth-moon system. The bright, sunlit half of the Earth contrasts strongly with the darker subdued colors of the moon. Our moon is one of the largest moons in the solar system. It is even larger than the planet Pluto. In this picture, the Earth-moon system actually appears to be a double planet.


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Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day