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Astronomy Picture of the Day
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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 26 - Epsilon Tauri: Star with Planet
Explanation: Epsilon Tauri lies 146 light-years away. A K-type red giant star, epsilon Tau is cooler than the Sun, but with about 13 times the solar radius it shines with nearly 100 times the solar luminosity. A member of the Hyades open star cluster the giant star is known by the proper name Ain, and along with brighter giant star Aldebaran, forms the eyes of Taurus the Bull. Surrounded by dusty, dark clouds in Taurus, epsilon Tau is also known to have a planet. Discovered by radial velocity measurements in 2006, epsilon Tauri b is a gas giant planet larger than Jupiter with an orbital period of 1.6 years. And though the exoplanet can't be seen directly, on a dark night its parent star epsilon Tauri is easily visible to the unaided eye.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 19 - Jupiter over 2 Hours and 30 Minutes
Explanation: Jupiter, our Solar System's ruling gas giant, is also the fastest spinning planet, rotating once in less than 10 hours. The gas giant doesn't rotate like a solid body though. A day on Jupiter is about 9 hours and 56 minutes long at the poles, decreasing to 9 hours and 50 minutes near the equator. The giant planet's fast rotation creates strong jet streams, separating its clouds into planet girdling bands of dark belts and bright zones. You can easily follow Jupiter's rapid rotation in this sharp sequence of images from the night of January 15, all taken with a camera and small telescope outside of Paris, France. Located just south of the equator, the giant planet's giant storm system, also known as the Great Red Spot, can be seen moving left to right with the planet's rotation. From lower left to upper right, the sequence spans about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 November 25 - Little Planet Aurora
Explanation: Immersed in an eerie greenish light, this rugged little planet appears to be home to stunning water falls and an impossibly tall mountain. It's planet Earth of course. On the night of November 9 the nadir-centered 360 degree mosaic was captured by digital camera from the Kirkjufell mountain area of western Iceland. Curtains of shimmering Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights provide the pale greenish illumination. The intense auroral display was caused by solar activity that rocked Earth's magnetosphere in early November and produced strong geomagnetic storms. Kirkjufell mountain itself stands at the top of the stereographic projection's circular horizon. Northern hemisphere skygazers will recognize the familiar stars of the Big Dipper just above Kirkjufell's peak. At lower right the compact Pleiades star cluster and truly giant planet Jupiter also shine in this little planet's night sky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 November 18 - Planet Earth from Orion
Explanation: One year ago a Space Launch System rocket left planet Earth on November 16, 2022 at 1:47am EST carrying the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis I mission, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems. Over an hour after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39B, one of Orion's external video cameras captured this view of its new perspective from space. In the foreground are Orion's Orbital Maneuvering System engine and auxillary engines, at the bottom of the European Service Module. Beyond one of the module's 7-meter long extended solar array wings lies the spacecraft's beautiful home world. Making close flybys of the lunar surface and reaching a retrograde orbit 70,000 kilometers beyond the Moon, the uncrewed Artemis I mission lasted over 25 days, testing capabilities to enable human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Building on the success of Artemis I, no earlier than November 2024 the Artemis II mission with a crew of 4 will venture around the Moon and back again.

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 6 – Star Eats Planet
Explanation: It’s the end of a world as we know it. Specifically, the Sun-like star ZTF SLRN-2020 was seen eating one of its own planets. Although many a planet eventually dies by spiraling into their central star, the 2020 event, involving a Jupiter-like planet, was the first time it was seen directly. The star ZTF SLRN-2020 lies about 12,000 light years from the Sun toward the constellation of the Eagle (Aquila). In the featured animated illustration of the incident, the gas planet's atmosphere is first pictured being stripped away as it skims along the outskirts of the attracting star. Some of the planet's gas is absorbed into the star's atmosphere, while other gas is expelled into space. By the video's end, the planet is completely engulfed and falls into the star's center, causing the star's outer atmosphere to briefly expand, heat up, and brighten. One day, about eight billion years from now, planet Earth may spiral into our Sun.

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 January 2 – After Sunset Planet Parade
Explanation: Look up tonight and see a whole bunch of planets. Just after sunset, looking west, planets Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars will all be simultaneously visible. Listed west to east, this planetary lineup will have Venus nearest the horizon, but setting shortly after the Sun. It doesn't matter where on Earth you live because this early evening planet parade will be visible through clear skies all around the globe. Taken late last month, the featured image captured all of these planets and more: the Moon and planet Mercury were also simultaneously visible. Below visibility were the planets Neptune and Uranus, making this a nearly all-planet panorama. In the foreground are hills around the small village of Gökçeören, Kaş, Turkey, near the Mediterranean coast. Bright stars Altair, Fomalhaut, and Aldebaran are also prominent, as well as the Pleiades star cluster. Venus will rise higher in the sky at sunset as January continues, but Saturn will descend.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 December 3 - Stereo Mars near Opposition
Explanation: Mars looks sharp in these two rooftop telescope views captured in late November from Singapore, planet Earth. At the time, Mars was about 82 million kilometers from Singapore and approaching its opposition, opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky on December 8. Olympus Mons, largest of the volcanoes in the Tharsis Montes region (and largest known volcano in the Solar System), is near Mars' western limb. In both images it's the whitish donut-shape at the upper right. The dark area visible near center is the Terra Sirenum region while the long dark peninsula closest to the planet's eastern limb is Sinus Gomer. Near its tip is Gale crater, the Curiosity rover's landing site in 2012. Above Sinus Gomer, white spots are other volcanoes in the Elysium region. At the top of the planet is the north polar cap covered with ice and clouds. Taken about two days apart, these images of the same martian hemisphere form a stereo pair. Look at the center of the frame and cross your eyes until the separate images come together to see the Red Planet in 3D.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 November 17 - Planet Earth from Orion
Explanation: A Space Launch System rocket left planet Earth on Wednesday, November 16 at 1:47am EST carrying the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis 1 mission, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems. Over an hour after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39B, one of Orion's external video cameras captured this view of its new perspective from space. In the foreground are Orion's Orbital Maneuvering System engine and auxillary engines, at the bottom of the European Service Module. Beyond one of the module's 7-meter long extended solar array wings lies the spacecraft's beautiful home world. The Artemis 1 mission will last almost four weeks, testing capabilities to enable human exploration of the Moon and Mars. The uncrewed Orion spacecraft is expected to fly by the Moon on November 21, performing a close approach to the lunar surface on its way to a retrograde orbit 70,000 kilometers beyond the Moon.  

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 October 30 - Night on a Spooky Planet
Explanation: What spooky planet is this? Planet Earth of course, on a dark and stormy night in 2013 at Hverir, a geothermally active area along the volcanic landscape in northeastern Iceland. Triggered by solar activity, geomagnetic storms produced the auroral display in the starry night sky. The ghostly towers of steam and gas are venting from fumaroles and danced against the eerie greenish light. For now, auroral apparitions are increasing as our Sun approaches a maximum in its 11 year solar activity cycle. And pretty soon, ghostly shapes may dance in your neighborhood too.

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 26 - Little Planet South Pole
Explanation: Lights play around the horizon of this snowy little planet as it drifts through a starry night sky. Of course the little planet is actually planet Earth. Recorded on August 21, the digitally warped, nadir centered panorama covers nearly 360x180 degrees outside the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. The southernmost research outpost is near the horizon at the top where the light of dawn is approaching after nearly six months of darkness. Along the bottom is the ceremonial pole marker surrounded by the 12 flags of the original signatories of the Antarctic treaty, with a wild display of the aurora australis above.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 July 8 - Roots on a Rotating Planet
Explanation: With roots on a rotating planet, an old tree is centered in this sequence of 137 exposures each 20 seconds long, recorded one night from northern Sicily. Digital camera and fisheye lens were fixed to a tripod to capture the dramatic timelapse, so the stars trailed through the region's dark sky. Of course that makes it easy to spot the planet's north celestial pole. The extension of Earth's axis of rotation into space is toward the upper left, at the center of the concentric star trail arcs. The Milky Way is there too. The plane of our galaxy stretches across the wide field of view from north to east (left to right) creating a broader luminous band of diffuse starlight.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 July 1 - The Solar System's Planet Trails
Explanation: Stars trail through a clear morning sky in this postcard from a rotating planet. The timelapse image is constructed from consecutive exposures made over nearly three hours with a camera fixed to a tripod beside the Forbidden City in Beijing, China on June 24. Arcing above the eastern horizon after the series of exposures began, a waning crescent Moon left the brightest streak and watery reflection. On that date the planets of the Solar System were also lined up along the ecliptic and left their own trails before sunrise. Saturn was first to rise on that morning and the ringed planet's trail starts close to the top right edge, almost out of the frame. Innermost planet Mercury rose only just before the Sun though. It left the shortest trail, visible against the twilight near the horizon at the far left. Uranus and Neptune are faint and hard to find, but mingled with the star trails the Solar System's planet trails are all labeled in the scene.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 June 19 - Game: Super Planet Crash
Explanation: Can you create a planetary system that lasts for 1000 years? Super Planet Crash, the featured game, allows you to try. To create up to ten planets, just click anywhere near the central star. Planet types can be selected on the left in order of increasing mass: Earth, Super-Earth, Ice giant, Giant planet, Brown dwarf, or Dwarf star. Each planet is gravitationally attracted not only to the central Sun-like star, but to other planets. Points are awarded, with bonus factors applied for increasingly crowded and habitable systems. The game ends after 1000 years or when a planet is gravitationally expelled. Many exoplanetary systems are being discovered in recent years, and Super Planet Crash demonstrates why some remain stable. As you might suspect after playing Super Planet Crash a few times, there is reason to believe that our own Solar System has lost planets during its formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 April 26 - Planet Parade over Sydney Opera House
Explanation: The world is waking up to a picturesque planet parade. Just before dawn, the eastern skies over much of planet Earth are decorated by a notable line of familiar planets. In much of Earth's northern hemisphere, this line of planets appears most nearly horizontal, but in much of Earth's southern hemisphere, the line appears more nearly vertical. Pictured over the Sydney Opera House in southern Australia, the planet line was captured nearly vertical about five days ago. From top to bottom, the morning planets are Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. As April ends, the angular distance between Venus and Jupiter will gradually pass below a degree as they switch places. Then, as May ends, Jupiter will pass near Mars as those two planets switch places. In June, the parade will briefly expand to include Mercury.

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 20 - Planet Line over New York Bridge
Explanation: There's an interesting sky to see if you wake up before the Sun. Lined up on toward the eastern horizon are four planets in a row. The planets are so bright they can even be seen from the bright sky inside a city. In fact, the featured image was taken from New York City, USA, with the foreground highlighted by the RFK (Triborough) Bridge. Pictured, the planets are, left to right, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. The planets all appear in a row because they all orbit the Sun in the same plane. This plane, called the ecliptic plane, was created in the early days of our Solar System and includes all planets, including Earth. The morning planet parade will continue throughout April and May, and will even be joined by Mercury in June.

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 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 August 24 - PDS 70: Disk, Planets, and Moons
Explanation: It's not the big disk that's attracting the most attention. Although the big planet-forming disk around the star PDS 70 is clearly imaged and itself quite interesting. It's also not the planet on the right, just inside the big disk, that’s being talked about the most. Although the planet PDS 70c is a newly formed and, interestingly, similar in size and mass to Jupiter. It's the fuzzy patch around the planet PDS 70c that's causing the commotion. That fuzzy patch is thought to be itself a dusty disk that is now forming into moons -- and that has never been seen before. The featured image was taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) of 66 radio telescopes in the high Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Based on ALMA data, astronomers infer that the moon-forming exoplanetary disk has a radius similar to our Earth's orbit, and may one day form three or so Luna-sized moons -- not very different from our Jupiter's four.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 August 21 - Triple Transit and Mutual Events
Explanation: These three panels feature the Solar System's ruling gas giant Jupiter on August 15 as seen from Cebu City, Philippines, planet Earth. On that date the well-timed telescopic views detail some remarkable performances, transits and mutual events, by Jupiter's Galilean moons. In the top panel, Io is just disappearing into Jupiter's shadow at the far right, but the three other large Jovian moons appear against the planet's banded disk. Brighter Europa and darker Ganymede are at the far left, also casting their two shadows on the gas giant's cloud tops. Callisto is below and right near the planet's edge, the three moons in a triple transit across the face of Jupiter. Moving to the middle panel, shadows of Europa and Ganymede are still visible near center but Ganymede has occulted or passed in front of Europa. The bottom panel captures a rare view of Jovian moons in eclipse while transiting Jupiter, Ganymede's shadow falling on Europa itself. From planet Earth's perspective, similar mutual events, when Galilean moons occult and eclipse each other, can be seen every six years or so when Jupiter is near its own equinox.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 24 - Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats
Explanation: Thunderstorms almost spoiled this view of the spectacular 2011 June 15 total lunar eclipse. Instead, storm clouds parted for 10 minutes during the total eclipse phase and lightning bolts contributed to the dramatic sky. Captured with a 30-second exposure the scene also inspired one of the more memorable titles (thanks to the astrophotographer) in APOD's now 25-year history. Of course, the lightning reference clearly makes sense, and the shadow play of the dark lunar eclipse was widely viewed across planet Earth in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The picture itself, however, was shot from the Greek island of Ikaria at Pezi. That area is known as "the planet of the goats" because of the rough terrain and strange looking rocks. The next total lunar eclipse will occur on Wednesday.

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 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 March 5 - A Little Like Mars
Explanation: The surface of this planet looks a little like Mars. It's really planet Earth though. In a digitally stitched little planet projection, the 360 degree mosaic was captured near San Pedro in the Chilean Atacama desert. Telescopes in domes on the horizon are taking advantage of the arid region's famously dark, clear nights. Taken in early December, a magnificent Milky Way arcs above the horizon for almost 180 degrees around the little planet with Orion prominent in the southern sky. A familiar constellation upside down for northern hemisphere skygazers, Orion shares that southern December night almost opposite the Large and Small Magellanic clouds. But the Red Planet itself is the brightest yellowish celestial beacon in this little planet sky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 8 - Crescent Saturn
Explanation: From Earth, Saturn never shows a crescent phase. But when viewed from a spacecraft the majestic giant planet can show just a sunlit slice. This image of crescent Saturn in natural color was taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in 2007. It captures Saturn's rings from the side of the ring plane opposite the Sun -- the unilluminated side -- another vista not visible from Earth. Visible are subtle colors of cloud bands, the complex shadows of the rings on the planet, and the shadow of the planet on the rings. The moons Mimas, at 2 o'clock, and Janus 4 o'clock, can be seen as specks of light, but the real challenge is to find Pandora (8 o'clock). From Earth, Saturn's disk is nearly full now and opposite the Sun. Along with bright fellow giant planet Jupiter it rises in the early evening.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 July 30 - The Red Planet Mars
Explanation: Mars looks pretty sharp in this backyard telescope image captured on July 23 from Hoegaarden, Belgium, planet Earth. The Red Planet's bright south polar cap is bathed in sunlight at the top of the inverted view, while the dark feature known as Syrtis Major extends toward the right (eastern) edge. Rising around midnight for now, the Red Planet is months away from its own opposition in early October. Telescopic views will improve even more as Earth, in its faster orbit, catches up to Mars, the ruddy disk growing larger and brighter still. The martian Jezero Crater is within the Syrtis Major region. That's the landing site for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover Perseverance, scheduled for launch today.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 July 2 - The Galaxy, the Planet, and the Apple Tree
Explanation: The Old Astronomer's Milky Way arcs through this peaceful northern sky. Against faint, diffuse starlight you can follow dark rifts of interstellar dust clouds stretching from the galaxy's core. They lead toward bright star Antares at the right, almost due south above the horizon. The brightest beacon in the twilight is Jupiter, though. From the camera's perspective it seems to hang from the limb of a tree framing the foreground, an apple tree of course. The serene maritime nightscape was recorded in tracked and untracked exposures on June 16 from Dover, Nova Scotia, planet Earth.

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 May 21 - Phases of Venus
Explanation: Just as the Moon goes through phases, Venus' visible sunlit hemisphere waxes and wanes. This composite of backyard telescopic images illustrates the steady changes for Venus during its current stint as our evening star, as the inner planet grows larger but narrows to a thin crescent. Images from bottom to top were taken during 2020 on dates February 27, March 20, April 14, April 24, May 8, and May 14. Gliding along its interior orbit between Earth and Sun, Venus grows larger during that period because it is approaching planet Earth. Its crescent narrows, though, as Venus swings closer to our line-of-sight to the Sun. Closest to the Earth-Sun line but passing about 1/2 degree north of the Sun on June 3, Venus will reach a (non-judgmental) inferior conjunction. Soon after, Venus will shine clearly above the eastern horizon in predawn skies as planet Earth's morning star. After sunset tonight look for Venus above the western horizon and you can also spot elusive innermost planet Mercury.

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 17 - The Windmill and the Star Trails
Explanation: Stars can't turn these old wooden arms, but it does look like they might in this scene from a rotating planet. The well-composed night skyscape was recorded from Garafia, a municipality on the island of La Palma, Canary Islands, planet Earth. The center of the once working windmill, retired since 1953, is lined-up with the north celestial pole, the planet's rotation axis projected on to the northern sky. From a camera fixed to a tripod, the star trails are a reflection of the planet's rotation traced in a digital composite of 39 sequential exposures each 25 seconds long. Brought out by highlighting the final exposure in the sequence, the stars themselves appear at the ends of their short concentric arcs. A faint band of winter's Milky Way and even a diffuse glow from our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy also shine in the night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 April 2 - Venus and the Pleiades in April
Explanation: Venus is currently the brilliant evening star. Shared around world, in tonight's sky Venus will begin to wander across the face of the lovely Pleiades star cluster. This digital sky map illustrates the path of the inner planet as the beautiful conjunction evolves, showing its position on the sky over the next few days. The field of view shown is appropriate for binocular equipped skygazers but the star cluster and planet are easily seen with the naked-eye. As viewed from our fair planet, Venus passed in front of the stars of the Seven Sisters 8 years ago, and will again 8 years hence. In fact, orbiting the Sun 13 Venus years are almost equal to 8 years on planet Earth. So we can expect our sister planet to visit nearly the same place in our sky every 8 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 February 26 - NGTS-10b: Discovery of a Doomed Planet
Explanation: This hot jupiter is doomed. Hot jupiters are giant planets like Jupiter that orbit much closer to their parent stars than Mercury does to our Sun. But some hot jupiters are more extreme than others. NGTS-10b, illustrated generically, is the closest and fastest-orbiting giant planet yet discovered, circling its home star in only 18 hours. NGTS-10b is a little larger than Jupiter, but it orbits less than two times the diameter of its parent star away from the star’s surface. When a planet orbits this close, it is expected to spiral inward, pulled down by tidal forces to be eventually ripped apart by the star’s gravity. NGTS-10b, discovered by researchers at the University of Warwick, is named after the Next Generation Transit Survey, which detected the imperiled planet when it passed in front of its star, blocking some of the light. Although the violent demise of NGTS-10b will happen eventually, we don't yet know when.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 7 - Lines of Time
Explanation: In time stars trace lines through the night sky on a rotating planet. Taken over two hours or more, these digitally added consecutive exposures were made with a camera and wide angle lens fixed to a tripod near Orel farm, Primorsky Krai, Russia, planet Earth. The stars trail in concentric arcs around the planet's south celestial pole below the scene's horizon, and north celestial pole off the frame at the upper right. Combined, the many short exposures also bring out the pretty star colours. Bluish trails are from stars hotter than Earth's Sun, while yellowish trails are from cooler stars. A long time ago this tree blossomed, but now reveals the passage of time in the wrinkled and weathered lines of its remains.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 November 30 - Star Trails for a Red Planet
Explanation: Does Mars have a north star? In long exposures of Earth's night sky, star trails make concentric arcs around the north celestial pole, the direction of our fair planet's axis of rotation. Bright star Polaris is presently the Earth's North Star, close on the sky to Earth's north celestial pole. But long exposures on Mars show star trails too, concentric arcs about a celestial pole determined by Mars' axis of rotation. Tilted like planet Earth's, the martian axis of rotation points in a different direction in space though. It points to a place on the sky between stars in Cygnus and Cepheus with no bright star comparable to Earth's north star Polaris nearby. So even though this ruddy, weathered landscape is remarkably reminiscent of terrain in images from the martian surface, the view must be from planet Earth, with north star Polaris near the center of concentric star trails. The landforms in the foreground are found in Qinghai Province in northwestern China.

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 September 14 - Little Planet to Exoplanets
Explanation: Of course this little planet is really planet Earth in a digitally stitched 360 x 180 degree mosaic captured high in the Chilean Atacama desert. The seemingly large domes house the 1-meter diameter telescopes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory. With a name creatively inspired by a sweet biscuit treat, the SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) telescopes really are hunting for little planets. Their mission is to search for the telltale dimming that indicates the transit of terrestrial exoplanets around the population of nearby, tiny, dim, ultracool stars. On the not-so-distant horizon, adaptive optics laser beams are firing from ESO's mountain top Paranal Observatory. The central Milky Way and Magellanic clouds also shine in this little planet's night sky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 June 7 - The Planet and the Pipe
Explanation: Now posing against our galaxy's rich starfields and nebulae, brilliant planet Jupiter shines in the night sky. Its almost overwhelming glow is near the top of the frame in this colorful telephoto portrait of the central Milky Way. Spanning about 20 degrees on the sky, the scene includes the silhouette of LDN 1773 against the starlight, also know by the popular moniker the Pipe Nebula for its apparent outline of stem and bowl. The Pipe Nebula is part of the galaxy's Ophiuchus dark cloud complex. Located at a distance of about 450 light-years, dense cores of gas and dust within are collapsing to form stars. Approaching its opposition, opposite the Sun in the sky on June 10, Jupiter is only about 36 light-minutes from planet Earth. Fans of dark markings on the sky can probably spot the Snake Nebula below and left of Jupiter's glare.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 May 25 - Planet of the Tajinastes
Explanation: What bizarre planet are these alien creatures from? It's only planet Earth, of course. The planet's home galaxy the Milky Way stretches across a dark sky in the panoramic, fisheye all-sky projection composed with a wide lens. But the imposing forms gazing skyward probably look strange to many denizens of Earth. Found on the Canary Island of Tenerife in the Teide National Park, they are red tajinastes, flowering plants that grow to a height of up to 3 meters. Among the rocks of the volcanic terrain, tajinastes bloom in spring and early summer and then die after a week or so as their seeds mature. A species known as Echium wildpretii, the terrestrial life forms were individually lit by flashlight during the wide-angle exposures.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 May 8 - Jupiter Marble from Juno
Explanation: What does Jupiter look like up close? Most images of Jupiter are taken from far away, either from Earth or from a great enough distance that nearly half the planet is visible. This shot, though, was composed from images taken relatively close in, where less than half of the planet was visible. From here, Jupiter still appears spherical but perspective distortion now makes it look more like a marble. Visible on Jupiter's cloud tops are a prominent dark horizontal belt containing a white oval cloud, and a white zone cloud, both of which circle the planet. The Great Red Spot looms on the upper right. The featured image was taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft in February during its 17th close pass of our Solar System's largest planet. Juno's mission, now extended into 2021, is to study Jupiter in new ways. Juno's data has already enabled discoveries that include Jupiter's magnetic field being surprisingly lumpy, and that some of Jupiter's cloud systems run about 3,000 kilometers into the planet.

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: 2018 December 8 - Tiny Planet Timelapse
Explanation: You can pack a lot of sky watching into 30 seconds on this tiny planet. Of course, the full spherical image timelapse video was recorded on planet Earth, from Grande Pines Observatory outside Pinehurst, North Carolina. It was shot in early September with a single camera and circular fisheye lens, digitally combining one 24-hour period with camera and lens pointed up with one taken with camera and lens pointed down. The resulting image data is processed and projected onto a flat frame centered on the nadir, the point directly below the camera. Watch as clouds pass, shadows creep, and the sky cycles from day to night when stars swirl around the horizon. Keep watching, though. In a second sequence the projected center is the south celestial pole, planet Earth's axis of rotation below the tiny planet horizon. Holding the stars fixed, the horizon itself rotates as the tiny planet swings around the frame, hiding half the sky through day and night.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 November 9 - Little Planet Lookout
Explanation: Don't panic. This little planet projection looks confusing, but it's actually just a digitally warped and stitched, nadir centered mosaic of images that covers nearly 360x180 degrees. The images were taken on the night of October 31 from a 30 meter tall hill-top lookout tower near Tatabanya, Hungary, planet Earth. The laticed lookout tower construction was converted from a local mine elevator. Since planet Earth is rotating, the 126 frames of 75 second long exposures also show warped, concentric star trails with the north celestial pole at the left. Of course at this location the south celestial pole is just right of center but below the the little planet's horizon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 August 9 - Red Planet, Red Moon, and Mars
Explanation: Mars is also known as The Red Planet, often seen with a reddish tinge in dark night skies. Mars shines brightly at the upper left of this gorgeous morning twilight view from Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia, but the Moon and planet Earth look redder still. Taken on July 27, the totally eclipsed Moon is setting. It looks reddened because the Earth's umbral shadow isn't completely dark. Instead Earth's shadow is suffused with a faint red light from all the planet's sunsets and sunrises seen from the perspective of an eclipsed Moon. The sunsets and sunrises are reddened because Earth's atmosphere scatters blue light more strongly than red, creating the faint bluish twilight sky. Of course, craggy seaside rocks also take on the reddened colors of this Australian sunrise.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 June 15 - Little Planet Soyuz
Explanation: Engines blazing, a large rocket bids farewell to this little planet. Of course, the little planet is really planet Earth and the large rocket is a Soyuz-FG rocket. Launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 6 it carried a Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft into orbit. On board were International Space Station Expedition 56-57 crew members Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA. Their spacecraft successfully docked with humanity's orbiting outpost just two days later. The little planet projection is the digitally warped and stitched mosaic of images covering 360 by 180 degrees, captured during the 2018 Star Trek car expedition.

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 October 29 - Night on a Spooky Planet
Explanation: What spooky planet is this? Planet Earth of course, on a dark and stormy night in 2013 at Hverir, a geothermally active area along the volcanic landscape in northeastern Iceland. Geomagnetic storms produced the auroral display in the starry night sky while ghostly towers of steam and gas venting from fumaroles danced against the eerie greenish light. Tonight, there is also a chance for geomagnetic storms triggered by recent solar activity, so high-latitude skygazers should beware. Ghostly shapes may dance in your neighborhood pretty soon, too.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 July 16 - Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats
Explanation: Thunderstorms almost spoiled this view of the spectacular 2011 June 15 total lunar eclipse. Instead, storm clouds parted for 10 minutes during the total eclipse phase and lightning bolts contributed to the dramatic sky. Captured with a 30-second exposure the scene also inspired one of the more memorable titles (thanks to the astrophotographer) in APOD's now 22-year history. Of course, the lightning reference clearly makes sense, and the shadow play of the dark lunar eclipse was widely viewed across planet Earth in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The picture itself, however, was shot from the Greek island of Ikaria at Pezi. That area is known as "the planet of the goats" because of the rough terrain and strange looking rocks.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 13 - Planet Aurora
Explanation: What bizarre alien planet is this? It's planet Earth of course, seen from the International Space Station through the shimmering glow of aurorae. About 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth, the orbiting station is itself within the upper realm of the auroral displays. Aurorae have the signature colors of excited molecules and atoms at the low densities found at extreme altitudes. Emission from atomic oxygen dominates this view. The eerie glow is green at lower altitudes, but a rarer reddish band extends above the space station's horizon. Also visible from the planet's surface, this auroral display began during a geomagnetic storm. The storm was triggered after a coronal mass ejection impacted Earth's magnetosphere in June of 2015.

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: 2017 January 18 - Space Station Vista: Planet and Galaxy
Explanation: If you could circle the Earth aboard the International Space Station, what might you see? Some amazing vistas, one of which was captured in this breathtaking picture in mid-2015. First, visible at the top, are parts of the space station itself including solar panels. Just below the station is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy, glowing with the combined light of billions of stars, but dimmed in patches by filaments of dark dust. The band of red light just below the Milky Way is airglow -- Earth's atmosphere excited by the Sun and glowing in specific colors of light. Green airglow is visible below the red. Of course that's our Earth below its air, with the terminator between day and night visible near the horizon. As clouds speckle the planet, illumination from a bright lightning bolt is seen toward the lower right. Between work assignments, astronauts from all over the Earth have been enjoying vistas like this from the space station since the year 2000.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 23 - Once Upon a Solstice Eve
Explanation: Once upon a solstice eve a little prince gazed across a frozen little planet at the edge of a large galaxy. The little planet was planet Earth of course, seen in this horizon to horizon, nadir to zenith projection, a digitally stitched mosaic from the shores of the Sec reservoir in the Czech Republic. So the large galaxy must be the Milky Way, and the brightest beacon on the planet's horizon Venus, visible around the globe as this season's brilliant evening star. Celestial treasures in surrounding dark skies include the Pleiades star cluster, and the North America nebula found along a dusty galactic rift. Embracing Venus, Zodiacal light traces a faint band across the night, but the more colorful pillars of light shine above streets a little closer to home.

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 September 2 - Little Planet Astro Camp
Explanation: Day and night on this little planet look a lot like day and night on planet Earth. In fact, the images used to construct the little planet projection, a digitally warped and stitched mosaic covering 360x180 degrees, were taken during day and night near Tarján, Hungary, planet Earth. They span a successful 33-hour-long photo experiment at July's Hungarian Astronomical Association Astro Camp. The time-series composite follows the solar disk in 20 minute intervals from sunrise to sunset and over six hours of star trails in the northern night sky centered on the North Celestial Pole near bright star Polaris. The orbiting International Space Station traced the offset arc across the northern night. Below the little planet's nightside horizon, red light lamps of fellow astro-campers left the night-long, dancing trails.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 August 25 - Closest Star has Potentially Habitable Planet
Explanation: The star closest to the Sun has a planet similar to the Earth. As announced yesterday, recent observations confirmed that this planet not only exists but inhabits a zone where its surface temperature could allow liquid water, a key ingredient for life on Earth. It is not yet known if this planet, Proxima b, has any life. Even if not, its potential ability to sustain liquid water might make it a good first hop for humanity's future trips out into the Milky Way Galaxy. Although the planet's parent star, Proxima Centauri, is cooler and redder than our Sun, one of the other two stars in the Alpha Centauri star system is very similar to our Sun. The featured image shows the sky location of Proxima Centauri in southern skies behind the telescope that made many of the discovery observations: ESO's 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. The discovered planet orbits close in -- so close one year there takes only 11 days on Earth. The planet was discovered by the ESO's Pale Red Dot collaboration. Although seemingly unlikely, if Proxima b does have intelligent life, at 4.25 light years distance it is close enough to Earth for two-way communication.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 5 - Cancri 55 e: Climate Patterns on a Lava World
Explanation: Why might you want to visit super-earth Cancri 55 e? Its extremely hot climate would be a deterrent, and fresh lava flows might be common. Discovered in 2004, the planet Cancri 55 e has twice the diameter of our Earth and about 10 times Earth's mass. The planet orbits its 40 light-year distant Sun-like star well inside the orbit of Mercury, so close that it is tidally locked, meaning that it always keeps the same face toward the object it orbits -- like our Moon does as it orbits the Earth. Astronomers have recently measured temperature changes on this exoplanet using infrared observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope. Given these observations, an artist created the featured video with educated guesses about what one revolution of Cancri 55 e might look like. Depicted are full phase, when the planet is fully illuminated, and new (dark) phase when it passes near the line of sight to Earth. The illustrated red bands on the Cancri 55 e indicate bands of lava that might flow on the planet. A recent density determination for 55 Cancri e show that this exoplanet is not made primarily of oxygen, as are the inner planets in our Solar System, but rather of carbon. Therefore, one reason to visit Cancri 55 e might be to study its core, because this planet's great internal pressure might be sufficient to make the carbon found there into one huge diamond.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 February 13 - Yutu on a Little Planet
Explanation: Tracks lead to a small robot perched near the top of this bright little planet. Of course, the planet is really the Moon. The robot is the desk-sized Yutu rover, leaving its looming Chang'e 3 lander after a mid-December 2013 touch down in the northern Mare Imbrium. The little planet projection is a digitally warped and stitched mosaic of images from the lander's terrain camera covering 360 by 180 degrees. Ultimately traveling over 100 meters, Yutu came to a halt in January 2014. The lander's instruments are still working though, after more than two years on the lunar surface. Meanwhile, an interactive panoramic version of this little planet is available here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 February 4 - Dwarf Planet Ceres
Explanation: Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System's main asteroid belt, with a diameter of about 950 kilometers (590 miles). Ceres is seen here in approximately true color, based on image data from the Dawn spacecraft recorded on May 4, 2015. On that date, Dawn's orbit stood 13,642 kilometers above the surface of the small world. Two of Ceres' famous mysterious bright spots at Oxo crater and Haulani crater are near center and center right of this view. Casting a telltale shadow at the bottom is Ceres' cone-shaped, lonely mountain Ahuna Mons. Presently some 385 kilometers above the Cerean surface, the ion-propelled Dawn spacecraft is now returning images from its closest mapping orbit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 January 30 - A Five Planet Dawn
Explanation: As January closes and in the coming days of February, early morning risers can spot the five naked-eye planets before dawn. Though some might claim to see six planets, in this seaside panoramic view all five celestial wanderers were found above the horizon along with a bright waning gibbous Moon on January 27. Nearly aligned along the plane of the ecliptic, but not along a line with the Sun, the five planets are spread well over 100 degrees across the sky. Just arriving on the predawn scene, fleeting Mercury stands above the southeastern horizon in the golden light of the approaching sunrise.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 October 24 - Jupiter in 2015
Explanation: Two remarkable global maps of Jupiter's banded cloud tops can be compared by just sliding your cursor over this sharp projection (or follow this link) of image data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Both captured on January 19, during back-to-back 10 hour rotations of the ruling gas giant, the all-planet projections represent the first in a series of planned annual portraits by the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program. Comparing the two highlights cloud movements and measures wind speeds in the planet's dynamic atmosphere. In fact, the Great Red Spot, the famous long-lived swirling storm boasting 300 mile per hour winds, is seen sporting a rotating, twisting filament. The images confirm that Great Red Spot is still shrinking, though still larger than planet Earth. Posing next to it (lower right) is Oval BA, also known as Red Spot Junior.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 22 - Little Planet Curiosity
Explanation: A curious robot almost completely straddles this rocky little planet. Of course, the planet is really Mars and the robot is the car-sized Curiosity Rover, posing over its recent drilling target in the Marias Pass area of lower Mount Sharp. The 92 images used to assemble the little planet projection, a digitally warped and stitched mosaic covering 360x180 degrees, were taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the Curiosity mission sol (martian day) 1065. That corresponds to 2015 August 5, three Earth years since Curiosity landed on the surface of the Red Planet. The composite selfie excludes images that show the rover's robotic arm and mount of the MAHLI camera itself, but their shadow is visible beneath. Check out this spectacular interactive version of Curiosity's sol 1065 panorama.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 10 - Fly Over Dwarf Planet Ceres
Explanation: What would it look like to fly over dwarf planet Ceres? Animators from the German Aerospace Center recently took actual images and height data from NASA's robotic Dawn mission -- currently visiting Ceres -- to generate several fascinating virtual sequences. The featured video begins with a mock orbit around the 950-km wide space rock, with the crater featuring two of the enigmatic white spots soon rotating into view. The next sequences take the viewer around the Ceres' north and south poles, and then over a limb of the dark world highlighting its heavily cratered surface. Here, terrain height on the asteroid belt's largest object has been digitally doubled, while an artificial star field has been added in the background. The Dawn spacecraft will likely remain an unusual artificial moon of Ceres long after its mission concludes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 May 14 - Dwarf Planet, Bright Spot
Explanation: Now at Ceres, Dawn's camera recorded this closer view of the dwarf planet's northern hemisphere and one of its mysterious bright spots on May 4. A sunlit portrait of a small, dark world about 950 kilometers in diameter, the image is part of a planned sequence taken from the solar-powered spacecraft's 15-day long RC3 mapping orbit at a distance of 13,600 kilometers (8,400 miles). The animated sequence shows Ceres' rotation, its north pole at the top of the frame. Imaged by Hubble in 2004 and then by Dawn as it approached Ceres in 2015, the bright spot itself is revealed to be made up of smaller spots of reflective material that could be exposed ice glinting in the sunlight. On Saturday, Dawn's ion propulsion system was turned on to spiral the spacecraft into a closer 4,350-kilometer orbit by June 6. Of course another unexplored dwarf planet, Pluto, is expecting the arrival of a visitor from Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft, by mid-July.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 January 12 - Super Planet Crash
Explanation: Can you create a planetary system that lasts for 500 years? Super Planet Crash, the featured game, allows you to try. To create up to ten planets, just click anywhere near the central star. Planet types can be selected on the left in order of increasing mass: Earth, Super-Earth, Ice giant, Giant planet, Brown dwarf, or Dwarf star. Each planet is gravitationally attracted not only to the central Sun-like star, but to other planets. Points are awarded, with bonus factors applied for increasingly crowded and habitable systems. The game ends after 500 years or when a planet is gravitationally expelled. Many exoplanetary systems are being discovered in recent years, and Super Planet Crash demonstrates why some remain stable. As you might suspect after playing Super Planet Crash a few times, there is reason to believe that our own Solar System has lost planets during its formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 August 1 - Tetons and Snake River, Planet Earth
Explanation: An alluring night skyscape, this scene looks west across the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, Planet Earth. The Snake River glides through the foreground, while above the Tetons' rugged mountain peaks the starry sky is laced with exceptionally strong red and green airglow. That night, the luminous atmospheric glow was just faintly visible to the eye, its color and wavey structure captured only by a sensitive digital camera. In fact, this contemporary digital photograph matches the location and perspective of a well-known photograph from 1942 - The Tetons and The Snake River , by Ansel Adams, renowned photographer of the American West. Adams' image is one of 115 images stored on the Voyager Golden Record. Humanity's message in a bottle, golden records were onboard both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977 and now headed toward interstellar space.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 January 31 - Light Pillars from a Little Planet
Explanation: Eerie pillars of light ring the edges of this snowy little planet. Of course the little planet is planet Earth, shown in a nadir-to-zenith, around-the-horizon, little planet projection. The spherical panoramic image mosaic maps a view from Siilinjärvi in eastern Finland. Flat ice crystals, like those more often found in high, thin clouds, are gently fluttering in very cold air near the surface. Pillars of light appear as the crystals' briefly horizontal facets reflect upward directed light from ground sources downward, toward the observer. In fact, the fluttering crystals produce an effect analogous to shimmering columns of moonlight or sunlight reflected by surface waves across water.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 January 2 - 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, 2006 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: 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 October 31 - Night on a Spooky Planet
Explanation: What spooky planet is this? Planet Earth of course, on the dark and stormy night of September 12 at Hverir, a geothermally active area along the volcanic landscape in northeastern Iceland. Geomagnetic storms produced the auroral display in the starry night sky while ghostly towers of steam and gas venting from fumaroles danced against the eerie greenish light. Tonight, there is still a chance for geomagnetic storms triggered by recent solar activity, so high-latitude skygazers should beware. And ghostly shapes may dance in your neighborhood, too. Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 24 - Little Planet Shadowrise
Explanation: Warm shades and subtle colors come to the sky in the fading sunlight after shadowrise on this little planet. Of course the little planet is planet Earth, and this nadir-to-zenith, around-the-horizon mosaic maps the view from a small airfield near the town of Intendente Alvear, La Pampa province, Argentina. Just above the western horizon (top) the sky shines with the warm colors of sunset. The slate blue shadow of Earth itself extending through the atmosphere can be seen rising as it hugs the eastern horizon (bottom). Wrapped closely above the narrow projection of Earth's shadow is the gentle glow of reddened, backscattered sunlight called the antitwilight arch or the Belt of Venus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 17 - ISON, Mars, Regulus
Explanation: In order top to bottom this celestial snapshot features Comet ISON, planet Mars, and Regulus, alpha star of the constellation Leo, in the same frame. The scene spans about 2 degrees near the eastern horizon in early morning skies of October 15. Closest of the three, the much heralded Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) is by far the faintest at 14 light-minutes (1.7 AU) away. Mars is only slightly farther from our fair planet. About 16.5 light minutes (2 AU) away its normal ruddy color is washed out in the exposure. Regulus outshines both comet and planet from a distance of 75 light-years. Just above Regulus, the very faint smudge of light is actually the Leo I dwarf galaxy, 800,000 light-years away and almost lost in the glare of the bluish hued bright star. Comet ISON is expected to grow brighter, though. How bright is still not clear, but not as bright as a Full Moon in night skies. Estimated to be 1 to 4 kilometers in diameter, ISON's nucleus might substantially survive its very close encounter with the Sun on November 28. If so, the comet will climb back above the eastern horizon in planet Earth's northern hemisphere before dawn in early December.

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 14 - A Landing on Planet Earth
Explanation: With parachute deployed and retro-rockets blazing, this spacecraft landed on planet Earth on September 11 (UT) in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Seen in silhouette against the rockets' glare, the spacecraft is a Soyuz TMA-08M. Its crew, Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA were returning after five and half months aboard the International Space Station. The Soyuz retro-rockets fire very quickly and for an extremely short duration near touchdown. Capturing the moment, the well-timed photograph was taken from a helicopter flying over the landing site.

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 June 13 - Four Planet Sunset
Explanation: You can see four planets in this serene sunset image, created from a series of stacked digital exposures captured near dusk on May 25. The composite picture follows the trail of three of them, Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury (left to right) dropping toward the western horizon, gathered close in last month's remarkable triple planetary conjunction. Similar in brightness to planet Mercury, the star Elnath (Beta Tauri) is also tracked across the scene, leaving its dotted trail still farther to the right. Of course, in the foreground are the still, shallow waters of Alikes salt lake, reflecting the striking colors of sunset over Kos Island, Greece, planet Earth. For now, Jupiter has wandered into the glare of the setting Sun, but Mercury and Venus remain low in the west at twilight.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 April 12 - Yuri's Planet
Explanation: On another April 12th, in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human to see planet Earth from space. Commenting on his view from orbit he reported, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". On yet another April 12th, in 1981 NASA launched the first space shuttle. To celebrate in 2013, consider this image from the orbiting International Space Station, a stunning view of the planet at night from low Earth orbit. Constellations of lights connecting the densely populated cities along the Atlantic east coast of the United States are framed by two Russian spacecraft docked at the space station. Easy to recognize cities include New York City and Long Island at the right. From there, track toward the left for Philadelphia, Baltimore, and then Washington DC near picture center.

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 28 - Snow Moon for a Snowy Planet
Explanation: The alarmingly tall inhabitants of this small, snowy planet cast long shadows in bright moonlight. Of course, the snowy planet is actually planet Earth and the wide-angle mosaic, shown as a little planet projection, was recorded on February 25 during the long northern night of the Full Snow Moon. The second brightest celestial beacon is Jupiter, on the right above the little planet's horizon. Lights near Östersund, Sweden glow along the horizon, surrounding the snow covered lake Storsjön. The photographer reports that the journey out onto the frozen lake by sled to capture the evocative Full Snow Moon scene was accompanied by ice sounds, biting cold, and a moonlit mist.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 22 - Saturn at Night
Explanation: Splendors seldom seen are revealed in this glorious picture from Saturn's shadow. Imaged by Cassini on October 17, 2012 during its 174th orbit, the ringed planet's night side is viewed from a perspective 19 degrees below the ring plane at a distance of about 800,000 kilometers with the Sun almost directly behind the planet. A 60 frame mosaic, images made with infrared, red, and violet filters were combined to create an enhanced, false-color view. Strongly backlit, the rings look bright away from the planet but dark in silhouette against the gas giant. Above center, they reflect a faint, eerie light on the cloud tops while Saturn casts its own dark shadow on the rings. A similar Cassini image from 2006 also featured planet Earth as a pale blue dot in the distance. Instead, this scene includes icy moons Enceladus (closer to the rings) and Tethys below the rings on the left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 14 - Umbra World
Explanation: On the morning of November 14, sky gazers from around the world gathered on this little planet to stand in the dark umbral shadow of the Moon. Of course, the Moon cast the shadow during last month's total solar eclipse, and the little planet is actually a beach on Green Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The picture itself, the first little planet projection of a total solar eclipse, is a digitally warped and stitched wrap-around of 8 images covering 360x180 degrees. To make it, the intrepid photographer had to remember to shoot both toward and away(!) from the eclipse during the excitement of totality. Near this little planet's horizon, the eclipsed Sun is just above center, surrounded by the glowing solar corona. Venus can be spotted in the shadow-darkened sky toward the top of the frame. At bottom right, bright star Sirius shines at the tip of an alarmingly tall tree.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 27 - Unusual Hollows Discovered on Planet Mercury
Explanation: What are those unusual features on planet Mercury? The slightly bluish tinge of features dubbed hollows has been exaggerated on the above image by the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft currently orbiting Mercury. The rounded depressions appear different than impact craters and nothing like them has been noted on Earth's Moon or anywhere else in the Solar System. The above image is a section of the floor of Raditladi impact basin about 40 kilometers wide that includes the mountains of the central peak. One progenitor hypothesis is that the hollows formed from the sublimation of material exposed and heated during the violent impact that created the Raditladi basin. NASA's MESSENGER is the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury, and is currently scheduled to explore the Solar System's innermost planet into 2013.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 11 - Little Planet Lovejoy
Explanation: Once a bright apparition in the southern hemisphere dawn Comet Lovejoy is fading, but its long tail still stretches across skies near the south celestial pole. Captured on the morning of December 30th, the comet appears near edge of this little planet as well. Of course, the little planet is actually planet Earth and the image was created from a 12 frame mosaic used to construct a spherical panorama. The type of stereographic projection used to map the image pixels is centered directly below the camera and is known as the little planet projection. Stars surrounding this little planet were above the photographer's cloudy horizon near the Bay of Islands on the Great Ocean Road in southern Victoria, Australia. Running alongside the Milky Way the comet can be identified, with other celestial highlights, by putting your cursor over the picture. Very bright stars Canopus and Sirius are right of the little planet.

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 October 22 - Jupiter Near Opposition
Explanation: On October 29 (UT), Jupiter, the solar system's largest planet, will be at opposition, opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky, shining brightly and rising as the Sun sets. That configuration results in Jupiter's almost annual closest approach to planet Earth, so near opposition the gas giant offers earthbound telescopes stunning views of its stormy, banded atmosphere and large Galilean moons. This sharp snapshot of Jupiter was captured on October 13 with the 1 meter telescope at the Pic Du Midi mountain top observatory in the French Pyrenees. North is up in the image that shows off oval shaped vortices and planet girdling dark belts and light zones. Also seen in remarkable detail, Jupiter's icy Ganymede, the solar system's largest moon, is emerging from behind the planet (top) while volcanic Io enters the frame near the lower left edge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 8 - MESSENGER's First Day
Explanation: One solar day on a planet is the length of time from noon to noon. A solar day lasts 24 hours on planet Earth. On Mercury a solar day is about 176 Earth days long. And during its first Mercury solar day in orbit the MESSENGER spacecraft has imaged nearly the entire surface of the innermost planet to generate a global monochrome map at 250 meters per pixel resolution and a 1 kilometer per pixel resolution color map. Examples of the maps, mosaics constructed from thousands of images made under uniform lighting conditions, are shown (monochrome at left), both centered along the planet's 75 degrees East longitude meridian. The MESSENGER spacecraft's second Mercury solar day will likely include more high resolution targeted observations of the planet's surface features. (Editor's note: Due to Mercury's 3:2 spin-orbit resonance, a Mercury solar day is 2 Mercury years long.)

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 September 20 - Kepler 16b: A Planet with Two Suns
Explanation: If you stay up long enough, you can watch both suns set. Such might be a common adage from beings floating in the atmosphere of Kepler 16b, a planet recently discovered by the space-based Kepler satellite. The above animated video shows how the planetary system might look to a visiting spaceship. Although multiple star systems are quite common, this is the first known to have a planet. Because our Earth is in the orbital plane of both stars and the planet, each body is seen to eclipse the others at different times, producing noticeable drop offs in the amount of light seen. The frequent eclipses have given Kepler 16b the most accurate mass and radius determination for a planet outside our Solar System. To find a planet like Saturn in an orbit like Venus -- so close to its binary star parents -- was a surprise and will surely become a focus of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 August 22 - TrES 2b: Dark Planet
Explanation: Why is this planet so dark? Planet TrES-2b reflects back less than one percent of the light it receives, making it darker than any known planet or moon, darker even than coal. Jupiter-sized TrES-2b orbits extremely close to a sun-like star 750 light years away, and was discovered producing slight eclipses in 2006 using the modest 10-cm telescopes of the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey (TrES). The alien world's strange darkness, however, was only uncovered recently by observations indicating its slight reflective glow by the Sun-orbiting Kepler satellite. An artist's drawing of planet is shown above, complete with unsubstantiated speculation on possible moons. Reasons for TrES-2b's darkness remain unknown and are an active topic of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 June 18 - Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats
Explanation: Thunderstorms almost spoiled this view of the spectacular June 15 total lunar eclipse. Instead, storm clouds parted for 10 minutes during the total eclipse phase and lightning bolts contributed to the dramatic sky. Captured with a 30 second exposure the scene also inspired what, in the 16 year history of Astronomy Picture of the Day, the editor considers may be the best title yet for a picture (title credit to Chris K.). Of course, the lightning reference clearly makes sense, and the shadow play of the dark lunar eclipse was widely viewed across planet Earth in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The picture itself, however, was shot from the Greek island of Ikaria at Pezi. That area is known as "the planet of the goats" because of the rough terrain and strange looking rocks.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 April 12 - 50 Years Ago: Yuri's Planet
Explanation: On April 12th, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human in space. His remotely controlled Vostok 1 spacecraft lofted him to an altitude of 200 miles and carried him once around planet Earth. Commenting on the first view from space he reported, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". His view could have resembled this image taken in 2003 from the International Space Station. Alan Shepard, the first US astronaut, would not be launched until almost a month later and then on a comparatively short suborbital flight. Born on March 9, 1934, Gagarin was a military pilot before being chosen for the first group of cosmonauts in 1960. As a result of his historic flight he became an international hero and legend. Killed when his MIG jet crashed during a training flight in 1968, Gagarin was given a hero's funeral, his ashes interred in the Kremlin Wall. Twenty years later, on yet another April 12th, in 1981, NASA launched the first space shuttle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 April 11 - Otherworldly Planet Rise
Explanation: What would a sunrise look like on another world? So far, humanity has only recorded sunrises on Mars and Earth, but it is fun to wonder what they would look like on planets known and yet unknown. Planets far from their parent star would record the rise of an unusually bright point of light rather than a round orb. Although this might appear to be what is pictured above, the careful combination of long exposures and creative lighting is actually based on Venus-rise from planet Earth a few weeks ago, captured through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA. Picturesque buttes and mesas dot the background landscape. The orange sky is created by air scattering and dust, but is likely reminiscent of dusty skyscapes on Mars. Sunrise was set to occur a few minutes hence, and did indeed involve a round orb.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 March 29 - Kepler's Suns and Planets
Explanation: Using the prolific planet hunting Kepler spacecraft, astronomers have discovered 1,235 candidate planets orbiting other suns since the Kepler mission's search for Earth-like worlds began in 2009. To find them, Kepler monitors a rich star field to identify planetary transits by the slight dimming of starlight caused by a planet crossing the face of its parent star. In this remarkable illustration, all of Kepler's planet candidates are shown in transit with their parent stars ordered by size from top left to bottom right. Simulated stellar disks and the silhouettes of transiting planets are all shown at the same relative scale, with saturated star colors. Of course, some stars show more than one planet in transit, but you may have to examine the picture at high resolution to spot them all. For reference, the Sun is shown at the same scale, by itself below the top row on the right. In silhouette against the Sun's disk, both Jupiter and Earth are in transit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 17 - Night and Day above Almost Planet Sounio
Explanation: Has a new planet been discovered? What is pictured above is a remarkable 24 hour mosaic surrounding a spot on Sounio, Greece, right here on planet Earth. Images taken at night compose the top half of the picture, with star trails lasting as long as 11 hours visible. Contrastingly, images taken during the day compose the bottom of the image, with the Sun being captured once every 15 minutes. The image center shows a Little Prince wide angle projection centered on the ground but including gravel, grass, trees, Saint John's church, clouds, crepuscular rays, and even a signature icon of the photographer -- the Temple of Poseidon. Meticulous planning as well as several transition shots and expert digital processing eventually culminated in this image documenting half of the final two days of last year.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 8 - Two Planet Opposition
Explanation: In late September, two planets were opposite the Sun in Earth's sky, Jupiter and Uranus. Consequently closest to Earth, at a distance of only 33 light-minutes and 2.65 light-hours respectively, both were good targets for telescopic observers. Recorded on September 27, this well-planned composite of consecutive multiple exposures captured both gas giants in their remarkable celestial line-up accompanied by their brighter moons. The faint greenish disk of distant planet Uranus is near the upper left corner. Of the tilted planet's 5 larger moons, two can be spotted just above and left of the planet's disk. Both discovered by 18th century British astronomer Sir William Herschel and later named for characters in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon is farthest left, with Titania closer in. At the right side of the frame is ruling gas giant Jupiter, flanked along a line by all four of its Galilean satellites. Farthest from Jupiter is Callisto, with Europa and Io all left of the planet's disk, while Ganymede stands alone at the right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 1 - Zarmina's World
Explanation: A mere 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra, red dwarf star Gliese 581 has received much scrutiny by astronomers in recent years. Earthbound telescopes had detected the signatures of multiple planets orbiting the cool sun, two at least close to the system's habitable zone -- the region where an Earth-like planet can have liquid water on its surface. Now a team headed by Steven Vogt (UCO Lick), and Paul Butler (DTM Carnagie Inst.) has announced the detection of another planet, this one squarely in the system's habitable zone. Based on 11 years of data, their work offers a very compelling case for the first potentially habitable planet found around a very nearby star. Shown in this artist's illustration of the inner part of the exoplanetary system, the planet is designated Gliese 581g, but Vogt's more personal name is Zarmina's World, after his wife. The best fit to the data indicates the planet has a circular 37 day orbit, an orbital radius of only 0.15 AU, and a mass 3.1 times the Earth's. Modeling includes estimates of a planet radius of 1.5, and gravity at the planet's surface of 1.1 to 1.7 in Earth units. Finding a habitable planet so close by suggests there are many others in our Milky Way galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 August 3 - The Planet and the Radio Dish
Explanation: What planet is this? Although seemingly something out of The Little Prince, the planet is actually Earth. More specifically, it is a small part of the Earth incorporated into a four image stereographic "Little Planet " projection. The central fisheye image points down, while the surrounding wide-angle images were taken at a 30 degree tilt and added digitally later. Earth-anchored items surrounding the image center include green grass, dark shadows, and trees near and far. At the image top ("noon" if the planet were a clock) is the well-lit Parkes Radio Telescope dish in New South Wales, Australia. The surrounding sky contains many jewels of the night including the Moon at 9 pm, the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy at 1:30 pm and 7 pm, and the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy at 5 pm. A full field interactive version of this scene can be found here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 31 - Four Planet Sunset
Explanation: This mesmerizing sunset photo was taken from the summit of volcanic Mount Lawu, 3,265 meters above sea level, on July 21. The view looks west, toward the city lights of Surakarta (aka Solo), Central Java, Indonesia. Two other volcanic peaks, sharp Merapi (left) and Merbabu lie along the colorful horizon. Four planets shine in the twilight sky above them. Spread out near the plane of the ecliptic are Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, along with bright Regulus, alpha star of the constellation Leo. For help finding them, just put your cursor over the picture. In fact, these four planets still shine in western skies at sunset, with Venus, Mars, and Saturn grouped much more tightly this weekend and in early August. By August 12, a young crescent Moon will join the four planet sunset.

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: 2010 July 3 - A Giant Planet for Beta Pic
Explanation: A mere 50 light-years away, young star Beta Pictoris became one of the most important stars in the sky in the early 1980s. Satellite and ground-based telescopic observations revealed the presence of a surrounding outer, dusty, debris disk and an inner clear zone about the size of our solar system -- strong evidence for the formation of planets. Infrared observations from European Southern Observatory telescopes subsequently detected a source in the clear zone, now confirmed as a giant planet orbiting Beta Pic. The confirmation comes as the planet is detected at two different positions in its orbit. Designated Beta Pictoris b, the giant planet must have formed rapidly as Beta Pic itself is only 8 to 20 million years old. With an orbital period estimated between 17 and 44 years, Beta Pictoris b could lie near the orbit of Saturn if found in our solar system, making it the closest planet to its parent star directly imaged ... so far.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 June 10 - Regulus and the Red Planet
Explanation: Leo's royal star Regulus and red planet Mars appear in a colorful pairing just above the horizon in this starry skyscape. The photo was taken on June 4th from Oraman, a mountainous region of Kurdistan in western Iran near the border with Iraq. The marked color contrast between Mars and the bright blue star was easy to discern by eye, but is further enhanced in the picture through the use of a diffusion filter. Otherwise dominating the western evening sky, brilliant Venus has already set below the mountains in the scene. Saturn still shines in the night though, farther eastward along the ecliptic plane. Sliding your cursor over the picture will identify the planets, the stars of Leo, and a long-recognized star cluster in Coma Berenices.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 May 5 - The Faces of Mars
Explanation: Enthusiastic astro-artists ranging from expert to beginner, the youngest age 10, all contributed their work to this entertaining panel featuring different faces of Mars. Their sketches are all based on telescopic views of the Red Planet from earlier this year, near its 2010 opposition. Mars offers the best telescopic views at opposition, since that's when it is closest and opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky. Arranged in a spiral pattern, the sketches are positioned to follow the planet's rotation. No canals are visible(!), but large surface markings such as the dramatic, dark Syrtis Major are easily identified. As often seen through an astronomical telescope eyepiece, the planet's orientation is inverted, with Mars' north polar cap at the bottom.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 September 23 - CoRoT Satellite Discovers Rocky Planet
Explanation: How similar is exoplanet CoRoT-7b to Earth? The newly discovered extra-solar planet is the closest physical match yet, with a mass about five Earths and a radius of about 1.7 Earths. Also, the home star to CoRoT-7b, although 500 light years distant, is very similar to our Sun. Unfortunately, the similarities likely end there, as CoRoT-7b orbits its home star well inside the orbit of Mercury, making its year last only 20 hours, and making its peak temperature much hotter than humans might find comfortable. CoRoT-7b was discovered in February by noting a predictable slight decrease in the brightness of its parent star. Pictured above, an artist's depiction shows how CoRoT-7b might appear in front of its parent star. The composition of CoRoT-7b remains unknown, but given its size and mass, it cannot be a gas giant like Jupiter, and is very likely composed predominantly of rock. Future observations will likely narrow the composition of one of the first known rocky planets discovered outside of our Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 June 3 - VB 10: A Large Planet Orbiting a Small Star
Explanation: Can a planet be as large as the star that it orbits? Recent observations have discovered that nearby Van Biesbroeck's star might have just such a large planet. Although VB 10 lies only about 20 light years away, it is a small red dwarf star so dim, at 17th magnitude, that a telescope is needed to see it. Van Biesbroeck's star was previously known for its rapid proper motion across the sky -- it moves so fast it could cross a full moon in only about 1,000 years. By noting a wiggle in VB 10's sky trajectory, astronomers were able to infer the existence of a planet several times the mass of Jupiter. Although the star VB 10 is perhaps 10 times more massive than the discovered planet VB 10b, the star is likely more highly compressed and so the two might be closely matched in size. Such a system is envisioned above with an artist's illustration. Since faint M-type stars like VB 10 are so common, planetary systems surrounding them, including planets larger than their parent star, might be more common than planetary systems like our own Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 April 4 - Star Party on Planet Earth
Explanation: As twilight sweeps around planet Earth tonight (April 4), many amateur astronomers will set up their telescopes for a 24-hour global star party. The planetwide star party is part of 100 Hours of Astronomy (100HA), a project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. To join the party, members of the public can find a nearby organized event or planned webcast by consulting the schedules on the 100HA website. What could you see through a telescope tonight? For starters, a bright Moon will shine in the evening sky, offering telescopic observers spectacular views of impact craters, mountains, and lava-flooded mare. Tonight's other celestial targets include the crowd pleasing planet Saturn surrounded by its own moons, its rings tilted nearly edge-on.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 27 - Lulin and Saturn near Opposition
Explanation: Tracking through the constellation Leo on February 23rd, bright planet Saturn and Comet Lulin were both near opposition -- opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky. They also passed within only 2 degrees of each other creating a dramatic celestial photo-op. Comet Lulin was near its closest approach to planet Earth at the time, at a distance of some 61 million kilometers, but was orbiting in the opposite direction. As a result it swept remarkably rapidly across the background of stars. This telephoto image captures both bright Saturn and greenish Lulin in the same field in a scene not too different from binocular views. Don't recognize ringed Saturn? The rings are presently tilted nearly edge-on to our view and the brighter planet is overexposed to record details of the fainter comet. At the upper right, Saturn is marked by multiple diffraction spikes created by the aperture blades in the telephoto lens.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 28 - Probably a Planet for Beta Pic
Explanation: A mere 50 light-years away, young star Beta Pictoris became one of the most important stars in the sky in the early 1980s. Satellite and ground-based telescopic observations revealed the presence of a surrounding outer, dusty, debris disk and an inner clear zone about the size of our solar system -- strong evidence for the formation of planets. Now, infrared observations from European Southern Observatory telescopes incorporated in this composite offer a detection of a source in the clear zone that is most likely a giant planet orbiting Beta Pic. Designated Beta Pictoris b, the new source is more than 1,000 times fainter than the direct starlight that has been carefully subtracted from the image data. It is aligned with the disk at a projected distance that would place it near the orbit of Saturn if found in our solar system. Confirmation that the new source is a planet will come if future observations can demonstrate that the source moves in an orbit around the star. When confirmed, it will be the closest planet to its parent star directly imaged ... so far.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 17 - HR 8799: Discovery of a Multi planet Star System
Explanation: How common are planetary systems like our own Solar System? In the twelve years previous to 2008, over 300 candidate planetary systems have been found orbiting nearby stars. None, however, were directly imaged, few showed evidence for multiple planets, and many had a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting inside the orbit of Mercury. Last week, however, together with recent images of Fomalhaut b, the above picture was released showing one of first confirmed images of planets orbiting a distant Sun-like star. HR 8799 has a mass about 1.5 times that of our own Sun, and lies about 130 light years from the Sun -- a distance similar to many stars easily visible in the night sky. Pictured above, a 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii captured in infrared light three planets orbiting an artificially obscured central star. The 8-meter Gemini North telescope captured a similar image. Each planet likely contains several times the mass of Jupiter, but even the innermost planet, labelled d, has an orbital radius near the equivalent of the Sun- Neptune distance. Although the HR 8799 planetary system has significant differences with our Solar System, it is a clear demonstration that complex planetary systems exist, systems that could conceivable contain an Earth-like planet.

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 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 May 21 - A Dangerous Sunrise on Gliese 876d
Explanation: On planet Gliese 876d, sunrises might be dangerous. Although nobody really knows what conditions are like on this close-in planet orbiting variable red dwarf star Gliese 876, the above artistic illustration gives one impression. With an orbit well inside Mercury and a mass several times that of Earth, Gliese 876d might rotate so slowly that dramatic differences exist between night and day. Gliese 876d is imagined above showing significant volcanism, possibly caused by gravitational tides flexing and internally heating the planet, and possibly more volatile during the day. The rising red dwarf star shows expected stellar magnetic activity which includes dramatic and violent prominences. In the sky above, a hypothetical moon has its thin atmosphere blown away by the red dwarf's stellar wind. Gliese 876d excites the imagination partly because it is one of the few extrasolar planets known to be close to the habitable zone of its parent star.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 May 9 - Moon Meets Mercury
Explanation: On Tuesday, May 6, while standing on planet Earth and sweeping your binoculars along the western horizon just after sunset, you might have encountered this arresting skyscape. The view features a slender crescent Moon and bright planet Mercury separated on the sky by only about 2 degrees. Cradled in the sunlit lunar crescent, the night side of the Moon is faintly illuminated by earthshine -- sunlight reflected from planet Earth. Of course, the clouds in silhouette and fading twilight colors are common elements in pictures of the sky after sunset, but much less often seen is inner planet Mercury, usually hiding close to the Sun in Earth's sky. Still, the coming week will be a good time to spot Mercury near the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset. As for the Moon, tonight and tomorrow night the crescent Moon will wander close to Mars in the early evening sky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 April 12 - Yuri's Planet
Explanation: On April 12th, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human in space. His remotely controlled Vostok 1 spacecraft lofted him to an altitude of 200 miles and carried him once around planet Earth. Commenting on the first view from space he reported, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". Alan Shepard, the first US astronaut, would not be launched until almost a month later and then on a comparatively short suborbital flight. Born on March 9, 1934, Gagarin was a military pilot before being chosen for the first group of cosmonauts in 1960. As a result of his historic flight he became an international hero and legend. Killed when his MIG jet crashed during a training flight on March 27, 1968, Gagarin was given a hero's funeral, his ashes interred in the Kremlin Wall. On yet another April 12th, in 1981, NASA launched the first space shuttle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 21 - Where is HD 189733?
Explanation: The star cataloged as HD 189733 is a mere 63 light-years away. Its location is indicated in this deep, wide-angle image of the sky centered on the northern constellation of Cygnus. Considering the many bright stars, nebulae, and star clusters in the region more familiar to skygazers, HD 189733 may not seem to be remarkable, but it is known to have at least one hot, jupiter-sized planet orbiting very close, with an impressively short period of 2.2 days. Because the planet regularly eclipses its parent star, astronomers can study starlight that passes directly through the planet's atmosphere and identify molecules through spectroscopy. Following the discovery of water vapor in the planetary atmosphere, astronomers now report that Hubble Space Telescope data also indicates the signature of methane (CH4). The exciting result is the first detection of an organic molecule on a planet orbiting another star. Although HD 189733's planet is considered too hot and inhospitable to support life, the work is a step toward measuring conditions and chemistry on other extrasolar planets where life could exist.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 20 - Sunset: Planet Earth
Explanation: Today, the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading north at 0548 UT. Known as the equinox, the geocentric astronomical event marks the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the south. Equinox means equal night and with the Sun on the celestial equator, Earth dwellers will experience nearly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Of course, for those in the north, the days will grow longer with the Sun marching higher in the sky as summer approaches. To celebrate the equinox, consider this colorful view of the setting Sun. Recorded last June from the International Space Station, the Sun's limb still peeks above the distant horizon as seen from Earth orbit. Clouds appear in silhouette as the sunlight is reddened by dust in the dense lower atmosphere. Molecules in the more tenuous upper atmosphere are preferentially scattering blue light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 12 - HD 189733b: Hot Jupiter
Explanation: HD 189733b is a Jupiter-sized planet known to orbit a star some 63 light-years away. But while the distant world is approximately the size of Jupiter, its close-in orbit makes it much hotter than our solar system's ruling gas giant. Like other detected hot Jupiters, its rotation is tidally locked -- one side always faces its parent star as it orbits once every 2.2 days. Using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, this planet's temperature variations have been mapped out -- the first map ever made for a planet beyond our solar system. Seen here (brighter colors = higher temperatures), the hottest spot on the planet is not at longitude 0.0, the point exactly facing the parent star. Instead, it's about 30 degrees to the east (right), evidence that fierce, planet circling winds influence the temperature. In the planet-wide map, the temperature measurements vary from about 930 to 650 degrees C (1,700 to 1,200 F).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 26 - Gliese 581 and the Habitable Zone
Explanation: The unremarkable star centered in this skyview is Gliese 581, a mere 20 light-years away toward the constellation Libra. But astronomers are now reporting the discovery of a remarkable system of three planets orbiting Gliese 581, including the most earth-like planet found beyond our solar system. Gliese 581 itself is not a sun-like star, though. Classified as a red dwarf, the star is much smaller and colder than the Sun. Still, the smallest planet known to orbit the star is estimated to be five times as massive as Earth with about 1.5 times Earth's diameter. That super-earth orbits once every 13 days, about 14 times closer to its parent star than the Earth-Sun distance. The close-in orbit around the cool star implies a mean surface temperature of between 0 and 40 degrees C - a range over which water would be liquid - and places the planet in the red dwarf's habitable zone.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 17 - Water Claimed in Evaporating Planet HD 209458b
Explanation: Planet HD 209458b is evaporating. It is so close to its parent star that its heated atmosphere is simply expanding away into space. Some astronomers studying this distant planetary system now believe they have detected water vapor among the gases being liberated. This controversial claim, if true, would mark the first instance of planetary water beyond our Solar System, and indicate anew that life might be sustainable elsewhere in the universe. HD 209458b is known as a hot Jupiter type system because it involves a Jupiter-type planet in a Mercury-type orbit. Although spectroscopic observations from the Hubble Space Telescope are the basis for the water detection claim, the planetary system is too small and faint to image. Therefore, an artist's impression of the HD 209458b system is shown above. Research into the atmospheric composition of HD 209458b and other extrasolar planets is continuing.

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 September 18 - Eris: The Largest Known Dwarf Planet
Explanation: Is Pluto the largest dwarf planet? No! Currently, the largest known dwarf planet is (136199) Eris, renamed last week from 2003 UB313. Eris is just slightly larger than Pluto, but orbits as far as twice Pluto's distance from the Sun. Eris is shown above in an image taken by a 10-meter Keck Telescope from Hawaii, USA. Like Pluto, Eris has a moon, which has been officially named by the International Astronomical Union as (136199) Eris I (Dysnomia). Dysnomia is visible above just to the right of Eris. Dwarf planets Pluto and Eris are trans-Neptunian objects that orbit in the Kuiper belt of objects past Neptune. Eris was discovered in 2003, and is likely composed of frozen water-ice and methane. Since Pluto's recent demotion by the IAU from planet to dwarf planet status, Pluto has recently also been given a new numeric designation: (134340) Pluto. Currently, the only other officially designated "dwarf planet" is (1) Ceres.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 August 21 - Ceres: Asteroid or Planet
Explanation: Is Ceres an asteroid or a planet? Although a trivial designation to some, the recent suggestion by the Planet Definition Committee of the International Astronomical Union would have Ceres reclassified from asteroid to planet. A change in taxonomy might lead to more notoriety for the frequently overlooked world. Ceres, at about 1000 kilometers across, is the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Under the newly proposed criteria, Ceres would qualify as a planet because it is nearly spherical and sufficiently distant from other planets. Pictured above is the best picture yet of Ceres, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope as part of a series of exposures ending in 2004 January. Currently, NASA's Dawn mission is scheduled to launch in 2007 June to explore Ceres and Vesta, regardless of their future designations.

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 March 20 - Super Earths May Circle Other Stars
Explanation: Are "super-Earths" common around other star systems? Quite possibly. Unexpected evidence for this came to light recently when a planet orbiting a distant star gravitationally magnified the light of an even more distant star. Assuming the planet's parent star is normal red dwarf, the brightening is best explained if the planet is about 13 times the mass of the Earth and orbiting at the distance of the asteroid belt in our own Solar System. Given the small number of objects observed and similar determinations already obtained for other star systems, these super-Earths might be relatively common. Astronomers speculate that the planet might have grown into a Jupiter-sized planet if its star system had more gas. Since the planet was not observed directly, significant uncertainty remains in its defining attributes, and future research will be aimed at better understanding this intriguing system. The above drawing gives an artist's depiction of what a super-Earth orbiting a distant red dwarf star might look like, complete with a hypothetical moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 11 - Jupiters Clouds from Cassini
Explanation: Gas giant Jupiter is the solar system's largest world with about 320 times the mass of planet Earth. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible in very modest sized telescopes. The dark belts and light-colored zones of Jupiter's cloud bands are organized by planet girdling winds which reach speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour. On toward the Jovian poles though, the cloud structures become more mottled and convoluted until, as in this Cassini spacecraft mosaic of Jupiter, the planet's polar region begins to look something like a brain! This striking equator-to-pole change in cloud patterns is not presently understood but may be due in part to the effect of Jupiter's rapid rotation or to convection vortices generated at high latitudes by the massive planet's internal heat loss. The Cassini spacecraft captured this dramatically detailed view of Jupiter in 2000 December during its turn of the millennium flyby enroute to Saturn.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 August 5 - HD 188753: Triple Sunset
Explanation: Although it looks like fiction, this artist's vision of sunset on an alien world is based on fact -- the recent discovery of a hot, jupiter-sized planet orbiting in triple star system HD 188753. Only 149 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, HD 188753's massive planet was detected by astronomer Maciej Konacki after analyzing detailed spectroscopic data from the Keck Observatory. The large planet itself is depicted at the upper left in this imagined view from the well-illuminated surface of a hypothetical rocky moon. From this perspective, the closest, hottest and most massive star in the triple system, a star only a little hotter than the Sun, has set below distant peaks. The two other suns nearing the horizon are both cooler and farther from the large planet. While other hot, jupiter-like planets are known to orbit nearby stars, the "crowded" multiple star nature of this system challenges current theories of planet formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 August 1 - 2003 UB 313: A Tenth Planet?
Explanation: Has a tenth planet been discovered? A newly discovered object, designated 2003 UB313 and located more than twice the distance of Pluto, is expected to be at least as large as Pluto and probably larger, given current measurements. 2003 UB313's dimness and highly tilted orbit (44 degrees) prevented it from being discovered sooner. Many astronomers speculate that numerous other icy objects larger than Pluto likely exist in the Kuiper Belt of the far distant Solar System. If so, and if some are found closer in than 2003 UB313, it may be premature to call 2003 UB313 the tenth planet. Illustrated above is an artist's drawing showing how 2003 UB313 might look. The unusually bright star on the right is the Sun. Much of the world eagerly await the decision by the International Astronomical Union on whether 2003 UB313 will be designated a planet or given a name without subscripts.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 June 14 - Gliese 876 System Includes Large Terrestrial Planet
Explanation: Is our Earth unique? In continuing efforts to answer this question, astronomers have now discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant normal star. Previously over 150 gas-giant planets like Jupiter had been so discovered. Slight, fast, but regular wobbles of nearby small M-dwarf star Gliese 876 showed evidence for a planet with a likely mass slightly higher than a minimum six times the mass of Earth. The planet's small mass indicates that it is likely terrestrial in nature, similar in composition to the inner planets of our Solar System. If indeed made predominantly of rock, the planet's surface gravity would not even be able to contain the gasses of a Jupiter-like planet. The newly discovered planet would not make a good vacation spot for humans, however, as it orbits so close that the surface temperature probably tops a searing 200 degrees Celsius. The system is illustrated in the above drawing as seen from a hypothetical moon orbiting one of the two Jupiter-like planets already known. The newly discovered terrestrial-like planet is depicted in the insert. Gliese 876 lies only 15 light-years away and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of Aquarius.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 10 - The First Image of an Extra Solar Planet
Explanation: It's the faint red object, not the bright white one that might be a historic find. The white object is surely a brown dwarf star. Quite possibly, however, the red object is the first direct image of a planet beyond our Solar System. The intriguing possibility was first reported last year, but many astronomers weren't then convinced that the "planet" was not just a background star. Earlier this year, the 2M1207 star system was imaged twice more in an effort to resolve the issue. To the delight of the scientific team, the objects kept the same separation, indicating that they are gravitationally bound. The faint red object 2M1207b is therefore 100 times fainter, intrinsically, than the bright white brown dwarf 2M1207a -- a characteristic well explained by a planet roughly five times the mass of Jupiter. The discovery - still subject to further confirmation - is considered a step toward the more ambitious goal of imaging Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars. The above image was taken with the high-resolution adaptive-optic NaCo camera attached to the 8-meter Very Large Telescope Yepun in Chile.

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 5 - Light from a Distant Planet
Explanation: Light emitted by a planet far beyond our Solar System has been identified for the first time. The planet, illustrated in the above drawing, had its light detected by comparing the brightness of only the parent star, when the planet was behind the star, to the light emitted when both the planet and its parent star were visible. The Earth-trailing Spitzer Space Telescope made the observation in infrared light, where the intrinsic glow of the planet outshines the light it reflects from its central star. The direct observation of light allowed a measurement of both the temperature and size of the planet: HD 209458b. Planet HD 209458b was confirmed to be larger than expected for its mass and on an orbit around its parent star that was unexpectedly close to a circle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 18 - Moon, Mercury, Monaco
Explanation: Low on the western horizon after sunset, a slender crescent Moon and wandering planet Mercury join the lights of Menton and Monaco along the French Riviera. Astronomer Vincent Jacques took advantage of this gorgeous photo opportunity a week ago on March 11, when the Moon and Mercury were separated in the sky by just three degrees. Of course, the Moon in a slender crescent phase is always seen near the horizon, as is Mercury - a bright planet which can be otherwise difficult to glimpse as it never strays far from the Sun in Earth's sky. In the coming days good views of Mercury will indeed be fleeting as the solar system's innermost planet is rapidly dropping closer to the glare of the setting Sun. But tonight a waxing Moon will join another bright planet wandering overhead through the evening sky, Saturn.

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 November 18 - A Sharper View of a Tilted Planet
Explanation: These sharp views of tilted gas giant Uranus show dramatic details of the planet's atmosphere and ring system. The remarkable ground-based images were made using a near-infrared camera and the Keck Adaptive Optics system to reduce the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere. Recorded in July, the pictures show two sides of Uranus (careful how you pronounce that ...). In both, high, white cloud features are seen mostly in the northern (right hand) hemisphere, with medium level cloud bands in green and lower level clouds in blue. The artificial color scheme lends a deep reddish tint to the otherwise faint rings. Because of the severe tilt of its rotational axis, seasons on Uranus are extreme and last nearly 21 Earth years on the distant planet. Uranus is now slowly approaching its southern autumnal equinox - the beginning of fall in the southern hemisphere - in 2007.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 11 - Pastel Planet, Triple Eclipse
Explanation: This false-color image of banded gas giant Jupiter shows a triple eclipse in progress on March 28 - a relatively rare event, even for a large planet with many moons. Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope's near-infrared camera are shadows of Jupiter's moons Ganymede (left edge), Callisto (right edge) and Io, three black spots crossing the sunlit Jovian cloud tops. In fact, Io itself is visible as a white spot near picture center with a bluish Ganymede above and to the right, but Callisto is off the right hand edge of the scene. Viewed from Jupiter's perspective, these shadow crossings would be seen as solar eclipses, analogous to the Moon's shadow crossing the sunlit face of planet Earth. Historically, timing the eclipses of Jupiter's moons allowed astronomer Ole Roemer to make the first accurate measurement of the speed of light in 1676.

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 June 25 - Planet Earth from SpaceShipOne
Explanation: On June 21st, pilot Mike Melvill made a historic flight in the winged craft dubbed SpaceShipOne -- the first private manned mission to space. The spaceship reached an altitude of just over 62 miles (100 kilometers) on a suborbital trajectory, similar to the early space flights in NASA's Mercury Program. So, how was the view? A video camera on an earlier test flight that climbed 40 miles recorded this picture looking west over the southern California coast and the Earth's limb. In the foreground, the nozzle of SpaceShipOne's hybrid rocket is visible along with the edge of the wing in a "feathered" configuration for reentry. SpaceShipOne was designed and built by Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites to compete for the 10 million dollar X Prize.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 8 - A Planet Transits the Sun
Explanation: Today an astronomical event will occur that no living person has ever seen: Venus will cross directly in front of the Sun. A Venus crossing, called a transit, last occurred in 1882 and was front-page news around the world. Today's transit will be visible in its entirety throughout Europe and most of Asia and Africa. The northeastern half of North America will see the Sun rise with the dark dot of Venus already superposed. Never look directly at the Sun, even when Venus is in front. Mercury's closer proximity to the Sun cause it to transit every few years. In fact, the above image mosaic of Mercury crossing the Sun is from two transits ago, in November 1999. Will anyone living see the next Venus transit? Surely yes since it occurs in 2012.

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 18 - The Planet, the White Dwarf, and the Neutron Star
Explanation: A planet, a white dwarf, and a neutron star orbit each other in the giant globular star cluster M4, some 5,600 light-years away. The most visible member of the trio is the white dwarf star, indicated above in an image from the Hubble Space Telescope, while the neutron star is detected at radio frequencies as a pulsar. A third body was known to be present in the pulsar/white dwarf system and a detailed analysis of the Hubble data has indicated it is indeed a planet with about 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter. In such a system, the planet is likely to be about 13 billion years old. Compared to our solar system's tender 4.5 billion years and other identified planets of nearby stars, this truly ancient world is by far the oldest planet known, almost as old as the Universe itself. Its discovery as part of an evolved cosmic trio suggests that planet formation spans the age of the Universe and that this newly discovered planet is likely only one of many formed in the crowded environs of globular star clusters.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 March 5 - Where People Live on Planet Earth
Explanation: Where do people live on Planet Earth? Although people inhabit every continent, the highest population densities occur in Asia. Sparsely inhabited regions occur on virtually every continent, however, including the Sahara Desert in Africa, the Great White North of North America, the outback of Australia, the Amazon of South America, and the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. The above color-coded map was produced from populations estimates made for 1994, when the world population was about 5.5 billion. Current estimates place the world population at about 6.3 billion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 15 - Ringed Planet Uranus
Explanation: Yes it does look like Saturn, but Saturn is only one of four giant ringed planets in our Solar System. And while Saturn has the brightest rings, this system of rings and moons actually belongs to planet Uranus, imaged here in near-infrared light by the Antu telescope at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile. Since gas giant Uranus' methane-laced atmosphere absorbs sunlight at near-infrared wavelengths the planet appears substantially darkened, improving the contrast between the otherwise relatively bright planet and the normally faint rings. In fact, the narrow Uranian rings are all but impossible to see in visible light with earthbound telescopes and were discovered only in 1977 as careful astronomers noticed the then unknown rings blocking light from background stars. The rings are thought to be younger than 100 million years and may be formed of debris from the collision of a small moon with a passing comet or asteroid-like object. With moons named for characters in Shakespeare's plays, the distant ringed world Uranus was last visited in 1986 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 10 - The Crab that Played with the Planet
Explanation: Wandering through the constellation Taurus, Saturn made its closest approach to planet Earth last month, tilting its lovely rings toward appreciative skygazers while rising high in midnight skies. On January 4th and 5th, Saturn also crossed in front of the high and far-off Crab Nebula (M1), a cosmic cloud of debris from a stellar explosion and first on the list of astronomer Charles Messier's celestial sights. But Saturn and the Crab made poor playmates, as light from the bright planet overwhelmed the the diffuse nebula, all but hiding the Crab during the transit. Taken on January 2nd, a few days before their closest encounter, this composite digital image illustrates the problem. The subtle nebula is just visible at the right, while on the left, light from a drastically over-exposed Saturn overflows its pixels. Composited into the image is a correctly exposed picture of ringed Saturn with the Saturnian moons labeled. The well-exposed Saturn image was also taken on January 2nd, but captured with an exposure lasting only a fraction of a second, in contrast with the tens of seconds of exposure time required to reveal the Crab.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 September 21 - Moonset, Planet Earth
Explanation: During the Astro-1 astronomy mission of December, 1990, Space Shuttle astronauts photographed this stunning view of the setting full moon poised 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 1941.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 June 14 - 55 Cancri: Familiar Planet Discovered
Explanation: Is our Solar System unique? The discovery of a Jupiter-like planet in a Jupiter-like orbit around nearby Sun-like star 55 Cancri, announced yesterday, gives a new indication that planetary systems similar to our Solar System likely exist elsewhere. The planet, discovered by G. Marcy (UC Berkeley) and collaborators, is one of two new planets found around 55 Cancri -- in 1997 a Jupiter-massed planet was found orbiting very close in. The finding involved noting subtle changes in the speed of the star caused by its orbiting planets. The above drawing depicts what this planet might look like, complete with a hypothetical moon. The star 55 Cancri, only 40 light-years distant, is visible with binoculars towards the constellation of Cancer.

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: 2001 December 1 - Neptune's Great Dark Spot: Gone But Not Forgotten
Explanation: When NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by distant Neptune in August of 1989, astronomers were shocked. Since Neptune receives only 3 percent the sunlight Jupiter does, they expected to find a dormant, dark, frigid planet. Instead, the Voyager images revealed evidence of a dynamic and turbulent world. One of the most spectacular discoveries was of the Great Dark Spot, shown here in close-up. Surprisingly, it was comparable in size and at the same relative southern latitude as Jupiter's Great Red Spot, appearing to be a similar rotating storm system. Winds near the spot were measured up to 1500 miles per hour, the strongest recorded on any planet. The Voyager data also revealed that the Great Dark Spot varied significantly in size during the brief flyby. When the Hubble Space Telescope viewed the planet in 1994, the spot had vanished -- only to be replaced by another dark spot in the planet's northern hemisphere!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 November 28 - Extra Solar Planetary Atmosphere Detected
Explanation: By directly detecting the atmosphere of a planet outside our Solar System, humanity has taken another small step toward finding extraterrestrial life. The unexpected detection by David Charbonneau (Caltech) and associates came from Hubble Space Telescope observations of Sun-like star HD 209458. As an orbiting planet crossed between that star and the Earth, sodium in the planet's atmosphere absorbed starlight at very specific colors. The planet, originally discovered two years ago, has about 70 percent the mass of Jupiter but orbits very close in. A long-term goal of this type of research is the detection of planetary biomarkers that would indicate life, such as oxygen, water, or methane.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 1 - A Global Dust Storm on Mars
Explanation: A dust storm on Mars can involve nearly the entire planet. As spring descended on the southern hemisphere of the red planet this June and July, a global dust storm raged. Pictured above is the storm on July 8 as it spread up from the south, oriented on the lower right. The image was captured by the robot Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft which continues to orbit the red planet. A smaller dust storm is visible in the north to the left of the dark giant volcano Ascraeus Mons. Far-reaching dust storms also occur on planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 26 - Uranus: The Tilted Planet
Explanation: Uranus is the third largest planet in our Solar System after Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus is composed mostly of rock and ices, but with a thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere. The blue hue of Uranus' atmosphere arises from the small amount of methane which preferentially absorbs red light. This picture was snapped by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986 - the only spacecraft ever to visit Uranus. Uranus has many moons and a ring system. Uranus, like Venus, has a rotation axis that is greatly tilted and sometimes points near the Sun. It remains an astronomical mystery why Uranus' axis is so tilted. Uranus and Neptune are quite similar: Uranus is slightly larger but less massive.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 17 - The 47 Ursae Majoris System
Explanation: Watching and waiting, astronomers have uncovered the presence of more than 70 planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. So far almost all these extrasolar planets have crazy elongated orbits, lie uncomfortably close to their parent stars, or are found in bizarre, inhospitable systems. Yet a reported new planet discovery indicates for the first time that a nearby sun-like star, 47 Ursae Majoris (47 UMa), has at least two planets in nearly circular orbits more reminiscent of Jupiter and Saturn in our own familiar Solar System. The planets are too distant and faint to be photographed directly. Still, 13 years of spectroscopic observations of 47 UMa have revealed the wobbling signature of a second planet intertwined with one previously known. In this artist's illustration, the worlds of 47 UMa hang over the rugged volcanic landscape of a hypothetical moon. The moon orbits the newly discovered planet, imagined here with Saturn-like rings, while the previously known planet is visible as a tiny crescent, close to the yellowish star. Closer still to 47 UMa is another tiny dot, a hypothetical Earth-like water world. About 51 light-years distant, 47 UMa can be found in planet Earth's sky near the Big Dipper.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 May 18 - HD 82943: Planet Swallower
Explanation: Stars like HD 82943 are main sequence G dwarf stars with temperatures and compositions similar to the Sun. Also like the Sun, HD 82943 is known to have at least two giant planets, but unlike gas giants in our solar system their orbits are not nearly circular and bring them closer to the parent star. Astronomers now point to strong observational evidence that HD 82943 used to have more planets ... but swallowed them in the past. Such a cosmic cataclysm is illustrated above in an artist's dramatic vision. As a result, planetary debris would contaminate the outer layers of HD 82943. Researchers using a high resolution spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory's Kueyen telescope believe they have seen a clear signature of this contamination by identifying the isotope Lithium-6 in this sun-like star's spectrum. Because the light element Lithium-6 is so readily destroyed in nuclear reactions during star formation, no significant Lithium-6 should now exist in HD 82943. Startlingly, perhaps the most likely explanation for the presence of Lithium-6 today is that it is left over from planetary material which formed separately and was then absorbed by the parent star.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 May 2 - Planet Building in HD 100546
Explanation: More than 100 billion boulders may be swarming in the disk around nearby star HD 100546. In a scene thought similar to the early years of our own Solar System, ever larger rocks are growing by colliding and accreting dust as the messy business of planet formation appears to be underway. For an Earth-like planet in such a hostile environment, the sky would be lit continuously with streaking meteors and the ground would rumble continuously with impacts. Pictured above, the swirling disk of dust, gas, and rocks of HD 100546 is visible as the dark region surrounding the image center. The bright light and six-pointed diffraction spikes from the central star have been removed from the false-color image. HD 100546 is visible with binoculars towards the southern constellation of Musca, and is a relatively nearby 335 light-years away. Similar planet-building systems, dubbed proplyds, have recently been found in Orion, where many emerging planets there must survive the boiling radiations of neighboring bright stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 February 9 - Nashville Four Planet Skyline
Explanation: So far this February, evening skies have been blessed with a glorious Moon and three bright planets; Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. But just last week, on January 30th, an extreme wide-angle lens allowed astrophotographer Larry Koehn to capture this twilight view of Moon and four planets above Nashville, Tennessee, USA. These major solar system bodies lie along the ecliptic plane and so follow a diagonal line through the picture. Starting near the upper left corner is bright Jupiter, which takes on a slightly triangular shape due to the lens distortion. Just below and right of Jupiter is Saturn. Continuing along the diagonal toward the lower right is an overexposed, six day old Moon and brilliant Venus seemingly embedded in clouds. The fourth planet pictured is Mercury. Notoriously hard to see from planet Earth because it never wanders far from the Sun, Mercury is visible just above the lower right corner. The line from Jupiter to Mercury spans about 92 degrees across the Nashville sky.

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 February 1 - Jupiter's Brain
Explanation: Gas giant Jupiter is the solar system's largest world with about 320 times the mass of planet Earth. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible in very modest sized telescopes. The dark belts and light-colored zones of Jupiter's cloud bands are organized by planet girdling winds which reach speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour. On toward the Jovian poles though, the cloud structures become more mottled and convoluted until, as in this Cassini spacecraft mosaic of Jupiter, the planet's polar region begins to look something like a brain! This striking equator-to-pole change in cloud patterns is not presently understood but may be due in part to the effect of Jupiter's rapid rotation or to convection vortices generated at high latitudes by the massive planet's internal heat loss. The Cassini spacecraft recorded this dramatically detailed view of Jupiter during its turn of the millennium flyby enroute to Saturn.

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 October 28 - Moonset, Planet Earth
Explanation: During the Astro-1 astronomy mission of December, 1990, Space Shuttle astronauts photographed this stunning view of the setting full moon 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 1941.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 10 - Other Worlds and HD 38529
Explanation: After the latest round of discovery announcements, the list of known worlds of distant suns has grown to 50. While extrasolar planet discoveries are sure to continue, none - so far - points clearly to another planetary system like our own. Take, for example, the newly discovered parent star HD38529. Shining in Earth's night sky at 6th magnitude, this sun-like star lies 137 light-years away in the constellation Orion. Like most of the known extrasolar planets, HD38529's planet was discovered by detecting the telltale Doppler wobble in the parent star's spectrum. The data reveal that this planet orbits once every 14.3 days at an average of only 0.13 times the Earth-Sun distance and has a minimum of 0.77 Jupiter masses (about 240 Earth masses). There is even evidence in the wobble data that HD38529, and other stars with one known planet have additional massive planets orbiting them. In this dramatic artist's vision, HD38529 and its newfound world are viewed from the moon of another massive ringed planet orbiting farther out. The ringed planet's moon is imagined to have a thin atmosphere and a surface covered with icy sheets and ridges similar to those found on Jupiter's moon Europa.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 7 - Nearby Star Epsilon Eridani Has a Planet
Explanation: A planet has been found orbiting a Sun-like star only 10 light-years away. No direct picture of the planet was taken - the planet was discovered by the gravitational wobble it created on its parent star, Epsilon Eridani. The discovery marks the closest Sun-like star yet found to house an extra-solar planet. Pictured above, the star Epsilon Eridani is visible near the belt of Orion to the unaided eye. The detected planet is thought to have a mass like Jupiter but orbit slightly closer in. The elliptical nature of the planet's orbit raises questions about whether the nearly circular orbits of planets in our own Solar System are relatively uncommon. It is unknown whether other planets exist around Epsilon Eridani.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 April 1 - Planet Earth From TIROS 1: First TV Image
Explanation: The Television InfraRed Observational Satellite (TIROS) 1 was the first weather satellite. Launched into a polar orbit 40 years ago (April 1, 1960) equipped with two TV cameras, TIROS 1 was operational for only 78 days but demonstrated the feasibility of monitoring planet Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns from space. TIROS satellites eventually began continuous coverage in 1962 and enabled accurate worldwide weather forecasts and alerts. Above is the first TIROS TV image, taken from an altitude of about 700 kilometers. Crude by contemporary standards, it represents the beginning of what is still one of the most important continuing applications of space technology.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 March 30 - Saturn-Sized Worlds Discovered
Explanation: The last decade saw the profound discovery of many worlds beyond our solar system, but none analogs of our home planet Earth. Exploiting precise observational techniques, astronomers inferred the presence of well over two dozen extrasolar planets, most nearly as massive as gas giant Jupiter or more, in close orbits around sun-like stars. Less massive planets must certainly exist, and yesterday preeminent planet-finders announced the further detection of two more new worlds -- each a potentially smaller, saturn-sized planet. The parent suns are 79 Ceti (constellation Cetus), at a distance of 117 light-years, and HD46375 (constellation Monoceros), 109 light-years away. With at least 70 percent the mass of Saturn, 79 Ceti's planet orbits on average 32.5 million miles from the star compared to 93 million miles for the Earth-Sun distance. This arresting artist's vision depicts the newly discovered world with rings and moons, known characteristics of giant planets in our solar system. HD46375's planet is at least 80 percent Saturn's mass, orbiting only 3.8 million miles from its parent star. While Saturn's mass is only one third of Jupiter's, it is still about 100 times that of Earth, and dramatic discoveries in the search for smaller planets are still to come.

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: December 10, 1999 - Spot The Planet
Explanation: OK, it's a picture of the Sun (duh!), but can you spot the planet? Of course, most of the spots you've spotted are sunspots, as large or larger than planet Earth itself. The sunspots are regions of strong surface magnetic fields which are dark in this picture only because they are relatively cool compared to their surroundings. Over the past few years, the number of sunspots has been steadily increasing as the Sun approaches the maximum in its 11 year activity cycle. But also visible in this photograph from November 15, is planet Mercury. At just over 1/3 Earth's size, Mercury is passing in front of the Sun, its silhouette briefly creating a diminutive dark spot drifting across an enormous solar disk. While "transits" of Mercury do occur 13 times a century, this one was additionally a very rare grazing transit of our Solar System's innermost planet. Spotted Mercury yet? Click on the picture for a hint.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 15, 1999 - In the Shade of a Historic Planet
Explanation: For the first time, astronomers have recovered independent evidence that distant planetary systems exist. Last Friday, a team led by G. W. Henry (Tenn. State) and G. Marcy (UC Berkeley) announced the discovery of a shadow of a planet crossing a distant star. Little known HD 209458, a Sun-like star 150 light-years away, had been suspected of harboring planets from a slight wobble found in its motion. Henry et al. now find that this wobble exactly corresponds to a planet crossing the face of the star, creating the slight dimming effect of a partial eclipse. The astronomers were then able to make a groundbreaking estimate of the mass and radius of the extra-solar planet, which they find to have about two-thirds the mass of Jupiter but about 60 percent larger radius. The drawing above is an artist's depiction of a planetary eclipse in the HD 209458 system.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 18, 1999 - Jupiter from Voyager
Explanation: This picture of the planet Jupiter was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed the planet in 1979. Jupiter, a gas giant planet with no solid surface, is the largest planet in the Solar System and is made mostly of the hydrogen and helium. Clearly visible in the above photo is the Great Red Spot, a giant, hurricane-like storm system that rotates with the clouds of Jupiter. It is so large three complete Earths could fit inside it. Astronomers have recorded this giant storm on Jupiter for over 300 years.

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: April 16, 1999 - Upsilon Andromedae: An Extra Solar System
Explanation: Yesterday, astronomers announced the discovery of the first system of planets around a normal star other than our Sun. Previously, only single planet star systems had been found. Subtle changes in the wobble of Upsilon Andromedae, a Sun-like star in the constellation of Andromeda, allowed astronomers led by R. Paul Butler (AAO) and Geoffrey W. Marcy (SFSU /UCB) to make the breakthrough. This star system is quite different from our own Solar System, however. All three detected planets have masses near or above Jupiter. The discovery implies that multiple-planet systems are quite common, increasing speculation that life-bearing planets similar to Earth may one day be found. The drawing above is an artist's depiction of the Upsilon Andromedae system and its innermost planet. This planet orbits unexpectedly close to its parent star.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 13, 1999 - Pluto: The Frozen Planet
Explanation: This portrait of Pluto and its companion Charon was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Pluto is usually the most distant planet from the Sun but because of its eccentric orbit Pluto crossed inside of Neptune's orbit in 1979. On Thursday, February 11th, it crossed back out, recovering its status as the most distant of nine planets. Pluto is still considered to be a planet, although very little is known about it compared to other planets. Pluto is smaller than any other planet and even smaller than several other planet's moons. Pluto is probably composed of frozen rock and ice, much like Neptune's moon Triton. Pluto has not yet been visited by a spacecraft, but a mission is being planned for the next decade.

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: January 16, 1999 - Spiral Eddies On Planet Earth
Explanation: Can you identify this wispy stellar nebula? How many light-years from Earth did you say? Resembling a twisting cloud of gas and dust between the stars this swirling form is actually close by - a spiral eddy formed near the North Atlantic Gulf Stream off the East coast of the U. S. Tens of miles across, spiral eddies are an ocean current phenomenon discovered by observations from manned spacecraft. Imaged by the Challenger space shuttle crew during the STS 41G mission this eddie is dramatically visible due to the low sun angle and strong reflection of sunlight. The reflection is caused by a very thin biologically produced oily film on the surface of the swirling water. Prior to STS 41G these eddies were thought to be rare but are now understood to be a significant dynamic feature of ocean currents. However, no good explanation of their origin or persistence exists.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 7, 1998 - Ocean Planet Pole To Pole
Explanation: The Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) instrument onboard the orbiting SeaStar spacecraft can map subtle differences in Earth's ocean color. These North (left) and South Pole projections are based on SeaWiFS measurements made between September 1997 and July 1998. The "color" strongly depends on how sunlight is reflected by free-floating phytoplankton - photosynthesizing organisms which contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll absorbs blue and red light and reflects green. Since the tiny phytoplankton are tremendously important, forming the beginning of the food chain for sea life, SeaWiFS color maps can help track the activity of ocean planet Earth's biosphere.

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: June 26, 1998 - A Planet For Gliese 876
Explanation: Centered in this unremarkable, 1/4 degree wide patch of sky in the constellation Aquarius is the star Gliese 876. Gliese 876 is smaller than the Sun, only about 1/3 as massive, and too faint to be seen without a telescope. But it is known to be one of the nearest stars, only 15 light-years distant. Astronomers have just announced findings that imply Gliese 876 has a planet at least 1.6 times as massive as Jupiter - making this now one of the closest suspected planetary systems. Like many recent discoveries, this planet's detection is not based on direct imaging but on spectroscopic measurements of the periodic change in motion or "Doppler wobble" produced in the parent star as the planet orbits. The Doppler wobble of Gliese 876 indicates that its planet orbits once every 61 days at an average distance of about 1/5 the radius of the Earth's orbit.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 29, 1998 - An Extrasolar Planet?
Explanation: This infrared Hubble Space Telescope view may contain the first ever direct image of a planet outside our own solar system. The picture shows a very young double star located about 450 light-years away toward the constellation of Taurus. Cataloged as TMR-1 (Taurus Molecular Ring star 1), the binary system is still embedded in the dust cloud that formed it. This double star and dust cloud are the brightest grouping in the picture, glowing strongly at infrared wavelengths. A filament extends from the binary system toward the lower left and points toward the spot of light representing the candidate planet. Astronomers believe this planet is a "runaway" object which was gravitationally ejected, the filament tracing the path to its present location at about 1500 times the Earth-Sun distance from the parent star system. Models suggest that the planet and binary system are a mere 300,000 years old, with the planet having a mass of about 2 to 3 Jupiters. Future observations to look for the planet's continued runaway motion and spectral signatures should be able to confirm the nature of this object. While this and other tantalizing discoveries of extrasolar planetary objects and protoplanetary disks don't seem to offer direct examples of solar systems like our own, they do strongly hint that planet formation is a varied and common process.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 28, 1997 - Pluto: The Frozen Planet
Explanation: The Hubble Space Telescope imaged Pluto and its moon Charon in 1994. Pluto is usually the most distant planet from the Sun but because of its elliptic orbit Pluto crossed inside of Neptune's orbit in 1979 and will cross back out again in 1999. Compared to the other planets, very little is known about Pluto. Pluto is smaller than any other planet and even smaller than several other planet's moons. From Pluto, the Sun is just a tiny point of light. Pluto is probably composed of frozen rock and ice, much like Neptune's moon Triton. Pluto has not yet been visited by a spacecraft, but a mission is being planned for the next decade.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 15, 1997 - Uranus: The Tilted Planet
Explanation: Uranus is the third largest planet after Jupiter and Saturn. This picture was snapped by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986 - the only spacecraft ever to visit Uranus. Uranus has many moons and a ring system. Uranus is composed mostly of rock and ices, but with a thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere. Uranus is peculiar in that its rotation axis is greatly tilted and sometimes points near the Sun. It remains an astronomical mystery why Uranus' axis is so tilted. Uranus and Neptune are very similar.

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: October 20, 1997 - Spiral Eddies On Planet Earth
Explanation: Can you identify this stellar nebula? How many light-years from Earth did you say? Looking like a twisting cloud of gas and dust between the stars this wispy nebulosity is actually close by - a spiral eddy formed near the North Atlantic Gulf Stream off the East coast of the US. Tens of miles across, spiral eddies are an ocean current phenomenon discovered by observations from manned spacecraft. Imaged by the Challenger space shuttle crew during the STS 41G mission this eddy is dramatically visible due to the low sun angle and strong reflection of sunlight. The reflection is caused by a very thin biologically produced oily film on the surface of the swirling water. Prior to STS 41G these eddies were thought to be rare but are now understood to be a significant dynamic feature of ocean currents. However, no good explanation of their origin or persistence exists.

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: 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: May 8, 1996 - Neptune's Great Dark Spot: Gone But Not Forgotten
Explanation: When NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by distant Neptune in August of 1989, astronomers were shocked. Since Neptune receives only 3 percent the sunlight Jupiter does, they expected to find a dormant, dark, frigid planet. Instead, the Voyager images revealed evidence of a dynamic and turbulent world. One of the most spectacular discoveries was of the Great Dark Spot, shown here in close-up. Surprisingly, it was comparable in size and at the same relative southern latitude as Jupiter's Great Red Spot, appearing to be a similar rotating storm system. Winds near the spot were measured up to 1500 miles per hour, the strongest recorded on any planet. The Voyager data also revealed that the Great Dark Spot varied significantly in size during the brief flyby. When the Hubble Space Telescope viewed the planet in 1994, the spot had vanished -- only to be replaced by another dark spot in the planet's northern hemisphere!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 5, 1996 - Planet Near a Galaxy Core
Explanation: What would the night sky look like if you lived on a planet near the center of a galaxy? Now imagine that this galaxy houses a black hole billions of times more massive than a star. From this spectacular vantage point, the sky might look like the above illustration. This drawing is based on recent observations of the center of NGC 4261, made by the Hubble Space Telescope. Results indicate that a disk of dust 800-light years wide surrounds the black hole. The hypothetical planet depicted above lies within this disk. The black hole itself heats gas to white-hot temperatures, generating light that is reddened when reflected off the dust. Jets shoot off from the poles of the black hole, perpendicular to the disk. However, friction with the dust and gas would cause planets near the black hole to spiral in and disappear forever. NASA has recently announced a new initiative to search for Earth-like planets in our Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 30, 1996 - 70 Virginis b: A New Water Planet?
Explanation: The star 70 Virginis has a planet. This recent discovery is the second known case of a planet orbiting a normal star other than our Sun itself. The first case involved 51 Pegasi and was announced last year. The star 70 Vir, shown in the center of the above false-color picture, is very much like the Sun. The planet is not visible above - the unusual structure surrounding the star is caused by the telescope. The planet, designated 70 Vir b for short, was discovered by very slight periodic shifts in its colors. Defining characteristics of this planet include that it is at least eight times the mass of Jupiter, it's orbit is much smaller than Jupiter's, and it's temperature allows water to exist in liquid form - like on the Earth. Life on Earth is based on liquid water - could life exist here too?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 1, 1995 - 51 Pegasi: A New Planet Discovered
Explanation: Are we alone in the universe? Do other stars have planets too? Humanity took one step closer to answering these questions in October 1995 when it was announced that the star 51 Pegasi harbors at least one planet. In the above picture of 51 Peg the planet is not visible - it can only be detected by noticing small changes in the star's motion. Claims of planets orbiting other stars are rare, with perhaps the most credible pertaining to a neutron star - a star much different than the Sun. But new ground was broken when the planetary detection claimed around the normal Sun-like star 51 Peg was confirmed. The planet, discovered by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, is thought to be like Jupiter - except orbiting so close to the parent star that it's year lasts only about 4 days! In the above picture the lines centered on 51 Peg are caused by the telescope itself and are not related to the star or planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 24, 1995 - A Radar Image of Planet Earth
Explanation: This image of Mt. Rainier, Washington USA, planet Earth, was produced by the Spaceborne Radar Laboratory which flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Radar, short for RAdio Detection And Ranging, is a technique which coordinates the operation of a radio transmitter and receiver to measure the direction, strength, and timing of radio echos from the surface of distant objects. An actual image of an object can be constructed by recording and analyzing many echos. One advantage of using radar imaging in planetary studies is that images can be made regardless of cloud cover or lighting conditions. During the early 90s, NASA's Magellan spacecraft was able to use radar imaging to produce similar high resolution maps of the surface of Venus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 18, 1995 - Pluto: The Frozen Planet
Explanation: The Hubble Space Telescope imaged Pluto and its moon Charon in 1994. Pluto is usually the most distant planet from the Sun but because of its elliptic orbit Pluto crossed inside of Neptune's orbit in 1979 and will cross back out again in 1999. Compared to the other planets, very little is known about Pluto. Pluto is smaller than any other planet and even smaller than several other planet's moons. From Pluto, the Sun is just a tiny point of light. Pluto is probably composed of frozen rock and ice, much like Neptune's moon Triton. Pluto has not yet been visited by a spacecraft, but a mission is being planned for the next decade.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 16, 1995 - Uranus: The Tilted Planet
Explanation: This picture was snapped by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986 - the only spacecraft ever to visit Uranus. Uranus is the third largest planet after Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus has many moons and a ring system. Uranus is composed mostly of liquid water, methane and ammonia, surrounded by a thick gas atmosphere of mostly hydrogen and helium. Uranus is peculiar in that its rotation axis is greatly tilted and sometimes points near the sun. It remains an astronomical mystery why Uranus' axis is so tilted. Uranus and Neptune are very similar.

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: August 14, 1995 - Mercury: Closest Planet to the Sun
Explanation: This picture was compiled from images taken by the NASA spacecraft Mariner 10 which flew by the planet three times in 1974. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, the second hottest planet (Venus gets hotter), and the second smallest planet (Pluto is smaller). Mercury rotates so slowly that one day there - "day" meaning the normal time it takes from sunset to sunset - lasts 176 days on Earth. It is difficult to see Mercury not because it is dim but because it always appears near the Sun, and is therefore only visible for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise. Mercury is made of rocky material like Earth. No one knows why Mercury has the magnetic field that it does.


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