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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Search Results for "Sun"




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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 13 - Circling the Sun
Explanation: Earth's orbit around the Sun is not a circle, it's an ellipse. The point along its elliptical orbit where our fair planet is closest to the Sun is called perihelion. This year, perihelion was on January 2 at 01:00 UTC, with the Earth about 3 million miles closer to the Sun than it was at aphelion (last July 6), the farthest point in its elliptical orbit. Of course, distance from the Sun doesn't determine the seasons, and it doesn't the determine size of Sun halos. Easier to see with the Sun hidden behind a tall tree trunk, this beautiful ice halo forms a 22 degree-wide circle around the Sun, recorded while strolling through the countryside near Heroldstatt, Germany. The Sun halo's 22 degree angular diameter is determined by the six-sided geometry of water ice crystals drifting high in planet Earth's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 November 19 – Space Station, Solar Prominences, Sun
Explanation: That's no sunspot. It's the International Space Station (ISS) caught passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no Dragon capsules attached. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most complicated spacecraft ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots circle the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one's location, timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. The featured picture combined three images all taken in 2021 from the same location and at nearly the same time. One image -- overexposed -- captured the faint prominences seen across the top of the Sun, a second image -- underexposed -- captured the complex texture of the Sun's chromosphere, while the third image -- the hardest to get -- captured the space station as it shot across the Sun in a fraction of a second. Close inspection of the space station's silhouette even reveals a docked Dragon Crew capsule.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 October 8 – Plane, Clouds, Moon, Spots, Sun
Explanation: What's that in front of the Sun? The closest object is an airplane, visible just below the Sun's center and caught purely by chance. Next out are numerous clouds in Earth's atmosphere, creating a series of darkened horizontal streaks. Farther out is Earth's Moon, seen as the large dark circular bite on the upper right. Just above the airplane and just below the Sun's surface are sunspots. The main sunspot group captured here, AR 2192, was in 2014 one of the largest ever recorded and had been crackling and bursting with flares since it came around the edge of the Sun a week before. This show of solar silhouettes was unfortunately short-lived. Within a few seconds the plane flew away. Within a few minutes the clouds drifted off. Within a few hours the partial solar eclipse of the Sun by the Moon was over. Fortunately, when it comes to the Sun, even unexpected alignments are surprisingly frequent. Perhaps one will be imaged this Saturday when a new partial solar eclipse will be visible from much of North and South America.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 July 11 – Sunspots on an Active Sun
Explanation: Why is our Sun so active now? No one is sure. An increase in surface activity was expected because our Sun is approaching solar maximum in 2025. However, last month our Sun sprouted more sunspots than in any month during the entire previous 11-year solar cycle -- and even dating back to 2002. The featured picture is a composite of images taken every day from January to June by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory. Showing a high abundance of sunspots, large individual spots can be tracked across the Sun's disk, left to right, over about two weeks. As a solar cycle continues, sunspots typically appear closer to the equator. Sunspots are just one way that our Sun displays surface activity -- another is flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that expel particles out into the Solar System. Since these particles can affect astronauts and electronics, tracking surface disturbances is of more than aesthetic value. Conversely, solar activity can have very high aesthetic value -- in the Earth's atmosphere when they trigger aurora.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 21 – Three Sun Paths
Explanation: Does the Sun follow the same path every day? No. The Sun's path changes during the year, tracing a longer route during the summer than the winter. Pictured here, the Sun's arc was captured from noon to sunset on three days, from highest in the sky to lowest: summer solstice, equinox, and winter solstice. The images were taken near Gatto Corvino Village in Sicily, Italy in 2020 and 2021. The path and time the Sun spends in the sky is more important in determining the season than how close the Earth is to the Sun. In fact, the Earth is closest to the Sun in January, during northern winter. Today is a solstice, so today the Sun is taking its longest path of the year across the sky in Earth's northern hemisphere, but the shortest path in the southern hemisphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 11 – The Sun and Its Missing Colors
Explanation: Here are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun's light through a prism-like device. The spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our white-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it appears brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the featured spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun's surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1868 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 February 22 – Our Increasingly Active Sun
Explanation: Our Sun is becoming a busy place. Only two years ago, the Sun was emerging from a solar minimum so quiet that months would go by without even a single sunspot. In contrast, already this year and well ahead of schedule, our Sun is unusually active, already nearing solar activity levels seen a decade ago during the last solar maximum. Our increasingly active Sun was captured two weeks ago sporting numerous interesting features. The image was recorded in a single color of light called Hydrogen Alpha, color-inverted, and false colored. Spicules carpet much of the Sun's face. The brightening towards the Sun's edges is caused by increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas and called limb darkening. Just outside the Sun's disk, several scintillating prominences protrude, while prominences on the Sun's face are known as filaments and show as light streaks. Magnetically tangled active regions are both dark and light and contain cool sunspots. As our Sun's magnetic field winds toward solar maximum over the next few years, whether the Sun's high activity will continue to increase is unknown.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 January 14 - Perihelion Sun 2023
Explanation: Perihelion for 2023, Earth's closest approach to the Sun, was on January 4 at 16:17 UTC. That was less than 24 hours after this sharp image of the Sun's disk was recorded with telescope and H-alpha filter from Sydney, Australia, planet Earth. An H-alpha filter transmits a characteristic red light from hydrogen atoms. In views of the Sun it emphasizes the Sun's chromosphere, a region just above the solar photosphere or normally visible solar surface. In this H-alpha image of the increasingly active Sun planet-sized sunspot regions are dominated by bright splotches called plages. Dark filaments of plasma snaking across the solar disk transition to bright prominences when seen above the solar limb.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 December 21 - Sun Halo at Sixty-three Degrees North
Explanation: Happy Solstice! Today is the December solstice, marking an astronomical beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north. On its yearly trek through planet Earth's skies, at this solstice the Sun reaches its southern most declination, 23.5 degrees south, at 21:48 UTC. About 4 days ago the Sun was near this seasonal southern limit and so only just above the horizon at local noon from Ostersund in central Sweden. This view looking over the far northern lakeside city finds the midday Sun with a beautiful solar ice halo. Naturally occurring atmospheric ice crystals can produce the tantalizing halo displays, refracting and reflecting the sunlight through their hexagonal geometry. Still, with the Sun low and near the horizon in the clear sky, likely sources of the ice crystals producing this intense halo are snow cannons. Operating at a local ski area, the snowmaking machines create a visible plume at the top of the nearby island Froson toward the right side of the panorama.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 November 2 - A Partial Eclipse of an Active Sun
Explanation: Watch for three things in this unusual eclipse video. First, watch for a big dark circle to approach from the right to block out more and more of the Sun. This dark circle is the Moon, and the video was made primarily to capture this partial solar eclipse last week. Next, watch a large solar prominence hover and shimmer over the Sun's edge. A close look will show that part of it is actually falling back to the Sun. The prominence is made of hot plasma that is temporarily held aloft by the Sun's changing magnetic field. Finally, watch the Sun's edge waver. What is wavering is a dynamic carpet of hot gas tubes rising and falling through the Sun's chromosphere -- tubes known as spicules. The entire 4-second time-lapse video covers a time of about ten minutes, although the Sun itself is expected to last another 5 billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 September 13 - A Long Snaking Filament on the Sun
Explanation: Earlier this month, the Sun exhibited one of the longer filaments on record. Visible as the bright curving streak around the image center, the snaking filament's full extent was estimated to be over half of the Sun's radius -- more than 350,000 kilometers long. A filament is composed of hot gas held aloft by the Sun's magnetic field, so that viewed from the side it would appear as a raised prominence. A different, smaller prominence is simultaneously visible at the Sun's edge. The featured image is in false-color and color-inverted to highlight not only the filament but the Sun's carpet chromosphere. The bright dot on the upper right is actually a dark sunspot about the size of the Earth. Solar filaments typically last from hours to days, eventually collapsing to return hot plasma back to the Sun. Sometimes, though, they explode and expel particles into the Solar System, some of which trigger auroras on Earth. The pictured filament appeared in early September and continued to hold steady for about a week.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 September 3 - Sun and Moon and ISS
Explanation: On August 25 Sun and Moon could both be seen in planet Earth's daytime skies. And so could the International Space Station. The ISS crossed the disk of the waning crescent Moon as seen from Shunyi district, Beijing, China at about 11:02 am local time. Some 40 kilometers to the southwest, in Fengtai district, the ISS was seen to cross the Sun's disk too. The solar transit was observed only 29 seconds later. Both transits are compared in these panels, composed of processed and stacked video frames from the two locations. The coordinated captures were made with different equipment, but adjusted to show the Sun and Moon at the same scale. The ISS was at a calculated range of 435 kilometers for the lunar transit and 491 kilometers when passing in front of the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 May 31 - Rocket Transits Rippling Sun
Explanation: The launch of a rocket at sunrise can result in unusual but intriguing images that feature both the rocket and the Sun. Such was the case last month when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center carrying 53 more Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. In the featured launch picture, the rocket's exhaust plume glows beyond its projection onto the distant Sun, the rocket itself appears oddly jagged, and the Sun's lower edge shows peculiar drip-like ripples. The physical cause of all of these effects is pockets of relatively hot or rarefied air deflecting sunlight less strongly than pockets relatively cool or compressed air: refraction. Unaware of the Earthly show, active sunspot region 3014 -- on the upper left -- slowly crosses the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 May 22 - A Large Tsunami Shock Wave on the Sun
Explanation: Tsunamis this large don't happen on Earth. During 2006, a large solar flare from an Earth-sized sunspot produced a tsunami-type shock wave that was spectacular even for the Sun. Pictured here, the tsunami wave was captured moving out from active region AR 10930 by the Optical Solar Patrol Network (OSPAN) telescope in New Mexico, USA. The resulting shock wave, known technically as a Moreton wave, compressed and heated up gasses including hydrogen in the photosphere of the Sun, causing a momentarily brighter glow. The featured image was taken in a very specific red color emitted exclusively by hydrogen gas. The rampaging tsunami took out some active filaments on the Sun, although many re-established themselves later. The solar tsunami spread at nearly one million kilometers per hour, and circled the entire Sun in a matter of minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 April 11 - A Space Station Crosses a Busy Sun
Explanation: Typically, the International Space Station is visible only at night. Slowly drifting across the night sky as it orbits the Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) can be seen as a bright spot several times a year from many locations. The ISS is then visible only just after sunset or just before sunrise because it shines by reflected sunlight -- once the ISS enters the Earth's shadow, it will drop out of sight. The only occasion when the ISS is visible during the day is when it passes right in front of the Sun. Then, it passes so quickly that only cameras taking short exposures can visually freeze the ISS's silhouette onto the background Sun. The featured picture did exactly that -- it is actually a series of images taken earlier this month from Beijing, China with perfect timing. This image series was later combined with separate images taken at nearly the same time but highlighting the texture and activity on the busy Sun. The solar activity included numerous gaseous prominences seen around the edge, highlighted in red, filaments seen against the Sun's face, and a dark sunspot.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 March 6 - Venus and the Triply Ultraviolet Sun
Explanation: This was a very unusual type of solar eclipse. Typically, it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. In 2012, though, the planet Venus took a turn. Like a solar eclipse by the Moon, the phase of Venus became a continually thinner crescent as Venus became increasingly better aligned with the Sun. Eventually the alignment became perfect and the phase of Venus dropped to zero. The dark spot of Venus crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Venusian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. Pictured here during the occultation, the Sun was imaged in three colors of ultraviolet light by the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, with the dark region toward the right corresponding to a coronal hole. Hours later, as Venus continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Venusian transit across the Sun will occur in 2117.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 16 - Eiffel Tower Prominence on the Sun
Explanation: What's that on the Sun? Although it may look like a flowing version of the Eiffel Tower, it is a solar prominence that is actually much bigger -- about the height of Jupiter. The huge prominence emerged about ten days ago, hovered over the Sun's surface for about two days, and then erupted -- throwing a coronal mass ejection (CME) into the Solar System. The featured video, captured from the astrophotographer's backyard in Hendersonville, Tennessee, USA, shows an hour time-lapse played both forwards and backwards. That CME did not impact the Earth, but our Sun had unleashed other recent CMEs that not only triggered Earthly auroras, but puffed out the Earth's atmosphere enough to cause just-launched Starlink satellites to fall back. Activity on the Sun, including sunspots, prominences, CMEs and flares, continues to increase as the Sun evolves away from a deep minimum in its 11-year magnetic cycle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 December 28 - Sun Halo over Sweden
Explanation: What's happened to the Sun? Sometimes it looks like the Sun is being viewed through a giant lens. In the featured video, however, there are actually millions of tiny lenses: ice crystals. Water may freeze in the atmosphere into small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals. As these crystals flutter to the ground, much time is spent with their faces flat and parallel to the ground. An observer may find themselves in the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset. During this alignment, each crystal can act like a miniature lens, refracting sunlight into our view and creating phenomena like parhelia, the technical term for sundogs. The featured video was taken in late 2017 on the side of a ski hill at the Vemdalen Ski Resort in central Sweden. Visible in the center is the most direct image of the Sun, while two bright sundogs glow prominently from both the left and the right. Also visible is the bright 22 degree halo -- as well as the rarer and much fainter 46 degree halo -- also created by sunlight refracting through atmospheric ice crystals.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 December 21 - Solstice Sun and Milky Way
Explanation: Welcome to December's solstice, first day of winter in the north and summer for the southern hemisphere. Astronomical markers of the seasons, solstice and equinox dates are based on the Sun's place in its annual journey along the ecliptic, through planet Earth's sky. At this solstice, the Sun reaches its maximum southern declination of -23.5 degrees today at 15:59 UTC, while its right ascension coordinate on the celestial sphere is 18 hours. That puts the Sun in the constellation Sagittarius in a direction near the center of our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, if you could see today's Solstice Sun against faint background stars and nebulae (that's really hard to do, especially in the daytime ...) your view might look something like this composited panorama. To make it, images of our fair galaxy were taken under dark Namibian night skies, then stitched together in a panoramic view. From a snapshot made on 2015 December 21, the Sun was digitally overlayed as a brilliant star at today's northern winter solstice position, close to the center of the Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 December 9 - A Total Eclipse of the Sun
Explanation: Few were able to stand in the Moon's shadow and watch the December 4 total eclipse of the Sun. Determined by celestial mechanics and not geographical boundaries, the narrow path of totality tracked across planet Earth's relatively inaccessible southernmost continent. Still, some enthusiastic and well-insulated eclipse chasers were rewarded with the dazzling spectacle in Antarctica's cold but clear skies. Taken just before the brief totality began, this image from a ground-based telescope inside the edge of the shadow path at Union Glacier catches a glimmer of sunlight near the top of the silhouetted lunar disk. Look closely for the pinkish solar prominences arcing above the Sun's limb. During totality, the magnificent solar corona, the Sun's outer atmosphere, made its much anticipated appearance, seen in the composite view streaming far from the Sun's edge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 23 - The Sun in X-rays from NuSTAR
Explanation: Why are the regions above sunspots so hot? Sunspots themselves are a bit cooler than the surrounding solar surface because the magnetic fields that create them reduce convective heating. It is therefore unusual that regions overhead -- even much higher up in the Sun's corona -- can be hundreds of times hotter. To help find the cause, NASA directed the Earth-orbiting Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite to point its very sensitive X-ray telescope at the Sun. Featured here is the Sun in ultraviolet light, shown in a red hue as taken by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Superimposed in false-colored green and blue is emission above sunspots detected by NuSTAR in different bands of high-energy X-rays, highlighting regions of extremely high temperature. Clues about the Sun's atmospheric heating mechanisms come from NuSTAR images like this and shed light on solar nanoflares and microflares as brief bursts of energy that may drive the unusual heating.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 8 - A Filament Leaps from the Sun
Explanation: Why, sometimes, does part of the Sun's atmosphere leap into space? The reason lies in changing magnetic fields that thread through the Sun's surface. Regions of strong surface magnetism, known as active regions, are usually marked by dark sunspots. Active regions can channel charged gas along arching or sweeping magnetic fields -- gas that sometimes falls back, sometimes escapes, and sometimes not only escapes but impacts our Earth. The featured one-hour time-lapse video -- taken with a small telescope in France -- captured an eruptive filament that appeared to leap off the Sun late last month. The filament is huge: for comparison, the size of the Earth is shown on the upper left. Just after the filament lifted off, the Sun emitted a powerful X-class flare while the surface rumbled with a tremendous solar tsunami. A result was a cloud of charged particles that rushed into our Solar System but mostly missed our Earth -- this time. However, enough solar plasma did impact our Earth's magnetosphere to create a few faint auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 September 21 - Sun Spot Hill
Explanation: Is this giant orange ball about to roll down that tree-lined hill? No, because the giant orange ball is actually the Sun. Our Solar System's central star was captured rising beyond a hill on Earth twelve days ago complete with a delightfully detailed foreground. The Sun's disk showed five sunspots, quite a lot considering that during the solar minimum in solar activity of the past few years, most days showed no spots. A close look at the hill -- Sierra del Cid in Perter, Spain -- reveals not only silhouetted pine trees, but silhouetted people -- by coincidence three brothers of the photographer. The trees and brothers were about 3.5-kilometers away during the morning of the well-planned image. A dark filter muted the usually brilliant Sun and brought up great detail on the lower sunspots. Within a few minutes, the Sun rose far above the hill, while within a week, the sunspots rotated around the Sun, out of view. The captured scene, however, is now frozen in time for all to enjoy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 4 - Space Station, Solar Prominences, Sun
Explanation: That's no sunspot. It's the International Space Station (ISS) caught passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no Dragon capsules attached. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most complicated spacecraft ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots circle the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one's location, timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. The featured picture combined three images all taken from the same location and at nearly the same time. One image -- overexposed -- captured the faint prominences seen across the top of the Sun, a second image -- underexposed -- captured the complex texture of the Sun's chromosphere, while the third image -- the hardest to get -- captured the space station as it shot across the Sun in a fraction of a second. Close inspection of the space station's silhouette even reveals a docked Dragon Crew capsule.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 February 17 - Sun Pillar with Upper Tangent Arc
Explanation: This was not a typical sun pillar. Just after sunrise two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, a photographer, looking out his window, was suddenly awestruck. The astonishment was caused by a sun pillar that fanned out at the top. Sun pillars, singular columns of light going up from the Sun, are themselves rare to see, and are known to be caused by sunlight reflecting from wobbling, hexagon-shaped ice-disks falling through Earth's atmosphere. Separately, upper tangent arcs are known to be caused by sunlight refracting through falling hexagon-shaped ice-tubes. Finding a sun pillar connected to an upper tangent arc is extraordinary, and, initially, took some analysis to figure out what was going on. A leading theory is that this sun pillar was also created, in a complex and unusual way, by falling ice tubes. Few might believe that such a rare phenomenon was seen again if it wasn't for the quick thinking of the photographer -- and the camera on his nearby smartphone.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 November 2 - Half Sun with Prominence
Explanation: What's happening to the Sun? Clearly, the Sun's lower half is hidden behind a thick cloud. Averaging over the entire Earth, clouds block the Sun about 2/3rds of the time, although much less over many land locations. On the Sun's upper right is a prominence of magnetically levitating hot gas. The prominence might seem small but it could easily envelop our Earth and persist for over a month. The featured image is a combination of two exposures, one optimizing the cloud and prominence, and the other optimizing the Sun's texture. Both were taken about an hour apart with the same camera and from the same location in Lynnwood, Washington, USA. The shaggy texture derives from the Sun's chromosphere, an atmospheric layer that stands out in the specifically exposed color. The uniformity of the texture shows the surface to be relatively calm, indicative of a Sun just past the solar minimum in its 11-year cycle. In the years ahead, the Sun will progress toward a more active epoch where sunspots, prominences, and ultimately auroras on Earth will be more common: solar maximum.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 October 3 - Driving to the Sun
Explanation: How long would it take to drive to the Sun? Brittany age 7, and D.J. age 12, ponder this question over dinner one evening. James also age 7, suggests taking a really fast racing car while Christopher age 4, eagerly agrees. Jerry, a really old guy who is used to estimating driving time on family trips based on distance divided by speed, offers to do the numbers. "Let's see ... the Sun is 93 million miles away. If we drove 93 miles per hour the trip would only take us 1 million hours." How long is 1 million hours? One year is 365 days times 24 hours per day, or 8,760 hours. One hundred years would be 876,000 hours, but that's still a little short of the 1 million hour drive time. So the Sun is really quite far away. Christopher is not impressed, but as he grows older he will be. You've got to be impressed by something that's 93 million miles away and still hurts your eyes when you look at it!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 19 - The Sun Rotating
Explanation: Does the Sun change as it rotates? Yes, and the changes can vary from subtle to dramatic. In the featured time-lapse sequences, our Sun -- as imaged by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory -- is shown rotating though an entire month in 2014. In the large image on the left, the solar chromosphere is depicted in ultraviolet light, while the smaller and lighter image to its upper right simultaneously shows the more familiar solar photosphere in visible light. The rest of the inset six Sun images highlight X-ray emission by relatively rare iron atoms located at different heights of the corona, all false-colored to accentuate differences. The Sun takes just under a month to rotate completely -- rotating fastest at the equator. A large and active sunspot region rotates into view soon after the video starts. Subtle effects include changes in surface texture and the shapes of active regions. Dramatic effects include numerous flashes in active regions, and fluttering and erupting prominences visible all around the Sun's edge. Presently, our Sun is passing an unusually low Solar minimum in activity of its 11-year magnetic cycle. As the video ends, the same large and active sunspot region previously mentioned rotates back into view, this time looking different.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 18 - TYC 8998 760 1: Multiple Planets around a Sun Like Star
Explanation: Do other stars have planets like our Sun? Previous evidence shows that they do, coming mostly from slight shifts in the star's light created by the orbiting planets. Recently, however, and for the first time, a pair of planets has been directly imaged around a Sun-like star. These exoplanets orbit the star designated TYC 8998-760-1 and are identified by arrows in the featured infrared image. At 17 million years old, the parent star is much younger than the 5-billion-year age of our Sun. Also, the exoplanets are both more massive and orbit further out than their Solar System analogues: Jupiter and Saturn. The exoplanets were found by the ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile by their infrared glow – after the light from their parent star was artificially blocked. As telescope and technology improve over the next decade, it is hoped that planets more closely resembling our Earth will be directly imaged.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 5 - Picture Rocks Sun Dagger
Explanation: Ancient sun daggers will not hurt you, but they may tell you the time.  A sun dagger is a dagger-shaped gap in a shadow created by sunlight streaming through a crevice in a nearby rock. Starting over a thousand year ago, native people of the American southwest carved spiral petroglyphs into rocks that became illuminated by sun daggers in different ways as the Sun shifts in the sky. A type of sundial, where the end of the sundagger points in the spiral at high noon (for example) indicates a time of year, possibly illuminating a solstice or equinoxSun daggers are thought to have been used by Sun Priests during lone vigils with prayers and offerings.  Of the few known, the featured video discusses the historic Picture Rocks Sun Dagger near Tucson, Arizona, USA, likely created by a Hohokam Sun Priest around 1000 AD. 

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 2 - Two Worlds One Sun
Explanation: How different does sunset appear from Mars than from Earth? For comparison, two images of our common star were taken at sunset, one from Earth and one from Mars. These images were scaled to have same angular width and featured here side-by-side. A quick inspection will reveal that the Sun appears slightly smaller from Mars than from Earth. This makes sense since Mars is 50% further from the Sun than Earth. More striking, perhaps, is that the Martian sunset is noticeably bluer near the Sun than the typically orange colors near the setting Sun from Earth. The reason for the blue hues from Mars is not fully understood, but thought to be related to forward scattering properties of Martian dust. The terrestrial sunset was taken in 2012 March from Marseille, France, while the Martian sunset was captured in 2015 by NASA's robotic Curiosity rover from Gale crater on Mars. Last week a new rover and a helicopter -- onboard Mars 2020 -- launched for Mars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 2 - Mercury Crosses a Quiet Sun
Explanation: What's that black dot crossing the Sun? The planet Mercury. Mercury usually passes over or under the Sun, as seen from Earth, but last month the Solar System's innermost planet appeared to go just about straight across the middle. Although witnessed by planet admirers across the globe, a particularly clear view was captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in Earth orbit. The featured video was captured by the SDO's HMI instrument in a broad range of visible light, and compresses the 5 1/2 hour transit into about 13 seconds. The background Sun was unusually quiet -- even for being near Solar Minimum -- and showed no sunspots. The next solar transit by Mercury will occur in 2032.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 November 14 - Mercury and the Quiet Sun
Explanation: On November 11, 2019 the Sun was mostly quiet, experiencing a minimum in its 11 year cycle of activity. In fact, the only spot visible was actually planet Mercury, making a leisurely 5 1/2 hour transit in front of the calm solar disk. About 1/200th the apparent diameter of the Sun, the silhouette of the solar system's inner most planet is near center in this sharp, full Sun snapshot. Taken with a hydrogen alpha filter and safe solar telescope, the image also captures prominences around the solar limb, the glowing plasma trapped in arcing magnetic fields. Of course, only inner planets Mercury and Venus can transit the Sun to appear in silhouette when viewed from planet Earth. Following its transit in 2016, this was Mercury's 4th of 14 transits across the solar disk in the 21st century. The next transit of Mercury will be on November 13, 2032.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 October 28 - The Space Station Crosses a Spotless Sun
Explanation: Typically, the International Space Station is visible only at night. Slowly drifting across the night sky as it orbits the Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) can be seen as a bright spot about once a month from many locations. The ISS is then visible only just after sunset or just before sunrise because it shines by reflected sunlight -- once the ISS enters the Earth's shadow, it will drop out of sight. The only occasion when the ISS is visible during the day is when it passes right in front of the Sun. Then, it passes so quickly that only cameras taking short exposures can visually freeze the ISS's silhouette onto the background Sun. The featured picture did exactly that -- it is actually a series of images taken a month ago from Santa Fe, Argentina with perfect timing. This image series was later combined with a separate image highlighting the texture of the spotless Sun, and an image bringing up the Sun's prominences around the edge. At an unusually low Solar Minimum, the Sun has gone without sunspots now for most of 2019.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 September 23 - Equinox: The Sun from Solstice to Solstice
Explanation: Today is an equinox, a date when day and night are equal. Tomorrow, and every day until the next equinox, the night will be longer than the day in Earth's northern hemisphere, and the day will be longer than the night in Earth's southern hemisphere. An equinox occurs midway between the two solstices, when the days and nights are the least equal. The featured picture is a composite of hourly images taken of the Sun above Bursa, Turkey on key days from solstice to equinox to solstice. The bottom Sun band was taken during the north's winter solstice in 2007 December, when the Sun could not rise very high in the sky nor stay above the horizon very long. This lack of Sun caused winter. The top Sun band was taken during the northern summer solstice in 2008 June, when the Sun rose highest in the sky and stayed above the horizon for more than 12 hours. This abundance of Sun caused summer. The middle band was taken during an equinox in 2008 March, but it is the same sun band that Earthlings see today, the day of the most recent equinox.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 July 15 - The Space Station Crosses a Spotless Sun
Explanation: That's no sunspot. It's the International Space Station (ISS) caught passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no solar panels. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most sophisticated machines ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots occur on the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one's timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. Strangely, besides that fake spot, in this recent two-image composite, the Sun lacked any real sunspots. The featured picture combines two images -- one capturing the space station transiting the Sun -- and another taken consecutively capturing details of the Sun's surface. Sunspots have been rare on the Sun since the dawn of the current Solar Minimum, a period of low solar activity. For reasons not yet fully understood, the number of sunspots occurring during both the previous and current solar minima have been unusually low.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 June 24 - Anticrepuscular Rays Converge Opposite the Sun
Explanation: Is there ever anything interesting to see in the direction opposite the Sun? Sometimes there is. Notable items include your own shadow, a shadow of the Moon during a total solar eclipse, a full moon -- in eclipse if the alignment's good enough, a full earth, planets at opposition, glints from planets, the gegenschein from interplanetary dust, the center of a rainbow, hall-of-mountain fogbows, an airplane glory, and something yet again different if your timing, clouds and Sun position are just right. This different effect starts with clouds near the Sun that are causing common crepuscular rays to stream through. In the featured rare image taken from an airplane in mid-April, these beams were caught converging 180 degrees around, on the opposite side of the sky from the Sun, where they are called anticrepuscular rays. Therefore, it may look like something bright is shining at the antisolar point near the image center, but actually it is reverse-shining because, from your direction, light is streaming in, not out.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 October 10 - Sun Dance
Explanation: Sometimes, the surface of our Sun seems to dance. In the middle of 2012, for example, NASA's Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft imaged an impressive prominence that seemed to perform a running dive roll like an acrobatic dancer. The dramatic explosion was captured in ultraviolet light in the featured time-lapse video covering about three hours. A looping magnetic field directed the flow of hot plasma on the Sun. The scale of the dancing prominence is huge -- the entire Earth would easily fit under the flowing arch of hot gas. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. The energy mechanism that creates a solar prominence is still a topic of research. Unlike 2012, this year the Sun's surface is significantly more serene, featuring fewer spinning prominences, as it is near the minimum in its 11-year magnetic cycle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 September 26 - The Sun's Spectrum with its Missing Colors
Explanation: It is still not known why the Sun's light is missing some colors. Here are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun's light through a prism-like device. The spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our white-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it does indeed appear brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the above spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun's surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1870 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 August 20 - Active Prominences on a Quiet Sun
Explanation: Why is the Sun so quiet? As the Sun enters into a period of time known as a Solar Minimum, it is, as expected, showing fewer sunspots and active regions than usual. The quietness is somewhat unsettling, though, as so far this year, most days show no sunspots at all. In contrast, from 2011 - 2015, during Solar Maximum, the Sun displayed spots just about every day. Maxima and minima occur on an 11-year cycle, with the last Solar Minimum being the most quiet in a century. Will this current Solar Minimum go even deeper? Even though the Sun's activity affects the Earth and its surroundings, no one knows for sure what the Sun will do next, and the physics behind the processes remain an active topic of research. The featured image was taken three weeks ago and shows that our Sun is busy even on a quiet day. Prominences of hot plasma, some larger than the Earth, dance continually and are most easily visible over the edge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 June 18 - An Active Prominence on the Sun
Explanation: Sometimes the Sun's surface becomes a whirlwind of activity. Pictured is a time-lapse video of the Sun's surface taken over a two hour period in early May, run both forwards and backwards. The Sun's surface was blocked out so that details over the edge could be imaged in greater detail. Hot plasma is seen swirling over the solar limb in an ongoing battle between changing magnetic fields and constant gravity. The featured prominence rises about one Earth-diameter over the Sun's surface. Energetic events like this are becoming less common as the Sun nears a minimum in its 11-year activity cycle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 June 6 - A Sun Pillar over Norway
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, six-sided shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-sun-pillar effect. In the featured picture taken last week, a sun-pillar reflects light from a Sun setting over Fensfjorden, Norway.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 May 27 - Coronal Rain on the Sun
Explanation: Does it rain on the Sun? Yes, although what falls is not water but extremely hot plasma. An example occurred in mid-July 2012 after an eruption on the Sun that produced both a Coronal Mass Ejection and a moderate solar flare. What was more unusual, however, was what happened next. Plasma in the nearby solar corona was imaged cooling and falling back, a phenomenon known as coronal rain. Because they are electrically charged, electrons, protons, and ions in the rain were gracefully channeled along existing magnetic loops near the Sun's surface, making the scene appear as a surreal three-dimensional sourceless waterfall. The resulting surprisingly-serene spectacle is shown in ultraviolet light and highlights matter glowing at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. Each second in the featured time lapse video takes about 6 minutes in real time, so that the entire coronal rain sequence lasted about 10 hours. Recent observations have confirmed that that coronal rain can also occur in smaller loops for as long as 30 hours.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 April 9 - The Sun Unleashed: Monster Filament in Ultraviolet
Explanation: One of the most spectacular solar sights is an explosive flare. In 2011 June, the Sun unleashed somewhat impressive, medium-sized solar flare as rotation carried active regions of sunpots toward the solar limb. That flare, though, was followed by an astounding gush of magnetized plasma -- a monster filament seen erupting at the Sun's edge in this extreme ultraviolet image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Featured here is a time-lapse video of that hours-long event showing darker, cooler plasma raining down across a broad area of the Sun's surface, arcing along otherwise invisible magnetic field lines. An associated coronal mass ejection, a massive cloud of high energy particles, was blasted in the general direction of the Earth,and made a glancing blow to Earth's magnetosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 February 4 - Venus and the Triply Ultraviolet Sun
Explanation: An unusual type of solar eclipse occurred in 2012. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. That year, most unusually, the planet Venus took a turn. Like a solar eclipse by the Moon, the phase of Venus became a continually thinner crescent as Venus became increasingly better aligned with the Sun. Eventually the alignment became perfect and the phase of Venus dropped to zero. The dark spot of Venus crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Venusian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. Pictured here during the occultation, the Sun was imaged in three colors of ultraviolet light by the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, with the dark region toward the right corresponding to a coronal hole. Hours later, as Venus continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Venusian transit across the Sun will occur in 2117.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 January 1 - Sun Halo over Sweden
Explanation: What's happened to the Sun? Sometimes it looks like the Sun is being viewed through a giant lens. In the featured video, however, there are actually millions of tiny lenses: ice crystals. Water may freeze in the atmosphere into small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals. As these crystals flutter to the ground, much time is spent with their faces flat and parallel to the ground. An observer may find themselves in the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset. During this alignment, each crystal can act like a miniature lens, refracting sunlight into our view and creating phenomena like parhelia, the technical term for sundogs. The featured video was taken a month ago on the side of a ski hill at the Vemdalen Ski Resort in central Sweden. Visible in the center is the most direct image of the Sun, while two bright sundogs glow prominently from both the left and the right. Also visible is the bright 22 degree halo -- as well as the rarer and much fainter 46 degree halo -- also created by sunlight refracting through atmospheric ice crystals.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 December 21 - Solstice Sun and Milky Way
Explanation: Welcome to December's solstice, first day of winter in the north and summer for the southern hemisphere. Astronomical markers of the seasons, solstice and equinox dates are based on the Sun's place in its annual journey along the ecliptic, through planet Earth's sky. At this solstice, the Sun reaches its maximum southern declination of -23.5 degrees today at 16:28 UTC, while its right ascension coordinate on the celestial sphere is 18 hours. That puts the Sun in the constellation Sagittarius in a direction near the center of our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, if you could see today's Solstice Sun against faint background stars and nebulae (that's really hard to do, especially in the daytime ...) your view might look something like this composited panorama. To make it, images of our fair galaxy were taken under dark Namibian night skies, then stitched together in a panoramic view. From a snapshot made on December 21, 2015, the Sun was digitally overlayed as a brilliant star at today's northern winter solstice position, close to the center of the Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 November 13 - Comet Machholz Approaches the Sun
Explanation: Why is Comet Maccholz so depleted of carbon-containing chemicals? Comet 96P/Machholz's original fame derives from its getting closer to the Sun than any other short period comet -- half as close as Mercury -- and doing so every five years. To better understand this unusual comet, NASA's Sun-monitoring SOHO spacecraft tracked the comet during its latest approach to the Sun in October. The featured image composite shows the tail-enhanced comet swooping past the Sun. The Sun's bright surface is hidden from view behind a dark occulter, although parts of the Sun's extended corona are visible. Neighboring stars dot the background. One hypothesis holds that these close solar approaches somehow cause Comet Machholz to shed its carbon, while another hypothesis posits that the comet formed with this composition far away -- possibly even in another star system.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 September 7 - The Flash Spectrum of the Sun
Explanation: In clear Madras, Oregon skies, this colorful eclipse composite captured the elusive chromospheric or flash spectrum of the Sun. Only three exposures, made on August 21 with telephoto lens and diffraction grating, are aligned in the frame. Directly imaged at the far left, the Sun's diamond ring-like appearance at the beginning and end of totality brackets a silhouette of the lunar disk at maximum eclipse. Spread by the diffraction grating into the spectrum of colors toward the right, the Sun's photospheric spectrum traces the two continuous streaks. They correspond to the diamond ring glimpses of the Sun's normally overwhelming disk. But individual eclipse images also appear at each wavelength of light emitted by atoms along the thin, fleeting arcs of the solar chromosphere. The brightest images, or strongest chromospheric emission, are due to Hydrogen atoms. Red hydrogen alpha emission is at the far right with blue and purple hydrogen series emission to the left. In between, the brightest yellow emission is caused by atoms of Helium, an element only first discovered in the flash spectrum of the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 August 28 - A Fleeting Double Eclipse of the Sun
Explanation: Last week, for a fraction of a second, the Sun was eclipsed twice. One week ago today, many people in North America were treated to a standard, single, partial solar eclipse. Fewer people, all congregated along a narrow path, experienced the eerie daytime darkness of a total solar eclipse. A dedicated few with fast enough camera equipment, however, were able to capture a double eclipse -- a simultaneous partial eclipse of the Sun by both the Moon and the International Space Station (ISS). The Earth-orbiting ISS crossed the Sun in less than a second, but to keep the ISS from appearing blurry, exposure times must be less than 1/1000th of a second. The featured image composite captured the ISS multiple times in succession as it zipped across the face of the Sun. The picture was taken from Huron, California in a specific color emitted by hydrogen which highlights the Sun's chromosphere, a layer hotter and higher up than the usually photographed photosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 July 17 - Moon Shadow versus Sun Reflection
Explanation: What are those lights and shadows crossing the Earth? As the featured five-second time-lapse video progresses, a full day on planet Earth is depicted as seen from Japan's Himawari-8 satellite in geostationary orbit high above the Pacific Ocean. The Sun rises to the right and sets to the left, illuminating the half of Earth that is most directly below. A reflected image of the Sun -- a Sun glint -- is visible as a bright spot that moves from right to left. More unusual, though, is the dark spot that moves from the lower left to upper right That is the shadow of the Moon, and it can only appear when the Moon goes directly between the Earth and the Sun. Last year, on the day these images were taken, the most deeply shadowed region experienced a total eclipse of the Sun. Next month a similarly dark shadow will sweep right across the USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 April 11 - Man, Dog, Sun
Explanation: This was supposed to be a shot of trees in front of a setting Sun. Sometimes, though, the unexpected can be photogenic. During some planning shots, a man walking his dog unexpected crossed the ridge. The result was so striking that, after cropping, it became the main shot. The reason the Sun appears so large is that the image was taken from about a kilometer away through a telephoto lens. Scattering of blue light by the Earth's atmosphere makes the bottom of the Sun appear slightly more red that the top. Also, if you look closely at the Sun, just above the man's head, a large group of sunspots is visible. The image was taken just last week in Bad Mergentheim, Germany.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 19 - Black Sun and Inverted Starfield
Explanation: Does this strange dark ball look somehow familiar? If so, that might be because it is our Sun. In the featured image from 2012, a detailed solar view was captured originally in a very specific color of red light, then rendered in black and white, and then color inverted. Once complete, the resulting image was added to a starfield, then also color inverted. Visible in the image of the Sun are long light filaments, dark active regions, prominences peeking around the edge, and a moving carpet of hot gas. The surface of our Sun can be a busy place, in particular during Solar Maximum, the time when its surface magnetic field is wound up the most. Besides an active Sun being so picturesque, the plasma expelled can also become picturesque when it impacts the Earth's magnetosphere and creates auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 21 - Traces of the Sun
Explanation: This year the December Solstice is today, December 21, at 10:44 UT, the first day of winter in the north and summer in the south. To celebrate, watch this amazing timelapse video tracing the Sun's apparent movement over an entire year from Hungary. During the year, a fixed video camera captured an image every minute. In total, 116,000 exposures follow the Sun's position across the field of view, starting from the 2015 June 21 solstice through the 2016 June 20 solstice. The intervening 2015 December 22 solstice is at the bottom of the frame. The timelapse sequences constructed show the Sun's movement over one day to begin with, followed by traces of the Sun's position during the days of one year, solstice to solstice. Gaps in the daily curves are due to cloud cover. The video ends with stunning animation sequences of analemmas, those figure-8 curves you get by photographing the Sun at the same time each day throughout a year, stepping across planet Earth's sky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 September 19 - 50000 Kilometers over the Sun
Explanation: What's happening at the edge of the Sun? Although it may look like a monster is rampaging, what is pictured is actually only a monster prominence -- a sheath of thin gas held above the surface by the Sun's magnetic field. The solar event was captured just this past weekend with a small telescope, with the resulting image then inverted and false-colored. As indicated with illustrative lines, the prominence rises over 50,000 kilometers above the Sun's surface, making even our 12,700-diameter Earth seem small by comparison. Below the monster prominence is active region 12585, while light colored filaments can be seen hovering over a flowing solar carpet of fibrils. Filaments are actually prominences seen against the disk of the Sun, while similarly, fibrils are actually spicules seen against the disk. Energetic events like this are becoming less common as the Sun evolves toward a minimum in its 11-year activity cycle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 May 8 - Mercurys Transit: An Unusual Spot on the Sun
Explanation: What's that dot on the Sun? If you look closely, it is almost perfectly round. The dot is the result of an unusual type of solar eclipse that occurred in 2006. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. This time, the planet Mercury took a turn. Like the approach to New Moon before a solar eclipse, the phase of Mercury became a continually thinner crescent as the planet progressed toward an alignment with the Sun. Eventually the phase of Mercury dropped to zero and the dark spot of Mercury crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Mercurian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. From above the cratered planes of the night side of Mercury, the Earth appeared in its fullest phase. Hours later, as Mercury continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. This was ten years ago -- the next Mercurian solar eclipse will occur tomorrow.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 May 1 - Contemplating the Sun
Explanation: Have you contemplated your home star recently? Featured here, a Sun partially eclipsed on the top left by the Moon is also seen eclipsed by earthlings contemplating the eclipse below. The spectacular menagerie of silhouettes was taken in 2012 from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Page, Arizona, USA, where park rangers and astronomers expounded on the unusual event to interested gatherers. Also faintly visible on the Sun's disk, just to the lower right of the dark Moon's disk, is a group of sunspots. Although a partial solar eclipse by the Moon is indeed a good chance to contemplate the Sun, a great chance -- and one that is significantly more rare -- will occur next week when the Sun undergoes a partial eclipse by the planet Mercury.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 12 - The Flash Spectrum of the Sun
Explanation: In a flash, the visible spectrum of the Sun changed from absorption to emission on March 9 during the total solar eclipse. That fleeting moment, at the beginning the total eclipse phase, is captured by telephoto lens and diffraction grating in this image from clearing skies over Ternate, Indonesia. At left, the overwhelming light from the Sun is just blocked by the lunar disk. The normally dominant absorption spectrum of the solar photosphere is hidden. What remains, spread by the diffraction grating into the spectrum of colors to the right of the eclipsed Sun, are individual eclipse images. The images appear at each wavelength of light emitted by atoms along the thin visible arc of the solar chromosphere and in an enormous prominence extending beyond the Sun's upper limb. The brightest images, or strongest chromospheric emission lines, are due to Hydrogen atoms that produce the red hydrogen alpha emission at the far right and blue hydrogen beta emission to the left. In between, the bright yellow emission image is caused by atoms of Helium, an element only first discovered in the flash spectrum of the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 January 10 - Sun Storm: A Coronal Mass Ejection
Explanation: What's happening to our Sun? Another Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)! The Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft has imaged many erupting filaments lifting off the active solar surface and blasting enormous bubbles of magnetic plasma into space. Direct light from the sun is blocked in the inner part of the featured image, taken in 2002, and replaced by a simultaneous image of the Sun in ultraviolet light. The field of view extends over two million kilometers from the solar surface. While hints of these explosive events, called coronal mass ejections or CMEs, were discovered by spacecraft in the early 70s, this dramatic image is part of a detailed record of this CME's development from the presently operating SOHO spacecraft. Near the maximum of the solar activity cycle, CMEs now typically occur several times a week. Strong CMEs may profoundly influence space weather. Those directed toward our planet can have serious effects.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 2 - Comet ISON Being Destroyed by the Sun
Explanation: Most comets don't survive a close encounter with the Sun. Two years ago this month, though, Comet ISON was thought by some to be big enough to withstand its perilous sungrazing dive. The featured video shows the drama as it was recorded by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a joint mission of ESA and NASA. As many Earthlings watched in fascination, a bright area did emerge from closest approach, but it soon faded and dispersed. It is now assumed that no large fragments of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) survived. Besides the comet, the active Sun is seen to eject puffs of plasma known as coronal mass ejections. Launched in 1995, sun-orbiting SOHO has become a historic device in the discovery and tracking of comets known as sungrazers. Two months ago, a comet designated SOHO 3000 was named in honor of the record 3000th comet that was discovered on SOHO images, a total that amounts to about half of all known comets.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 29 - Sunspot Group AR 2339 Crosses the Sun
Explanation: How do sunspots evolve? Large dark sunspots -- and the active regions that contain them -- may last for weeks, but all during that time they are constantly changing. Such variations were particularly apparent a few weeks ago as the active region AR 2339 came around the limb of the Sun and was tracked for the next 12 days by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory. In the featured time lapse video, some sunspots drift apart, while others merge. All the while, the dark central umbral regions shift internally and their surrounding lighter penumbras shimmer and wave. The surrounding Sun appears to flicker as the carpet of yellow granules come and go on the time scale of hours. In general, sunspots are relatively cool regions where the local magnetic field pokes through the Sun's surface and inhibits heating. Over the past week, an even more active region -- AR 2371 -- has been crossing the Sun and releasing powerful flares that have resulted in impressive auroras here on Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 28 - All the Colors of the Sun
Explanation: It is still not known why the Sun's light is missing some colors. Here are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun's light through a prism-like device. The spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our white-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it does indeed appear brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the above spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun's surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1870 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 May 12 - Two Worlds One Sun
Explanation: How different does sunset appear from Mars than from Earth? For comparison, two images of our common star were taken at sunset, one from Earth and one from Mars. These images were scaled to have same angular width and featured here side-by-side. A quick inspection will reveal that the Sun appears slightly smaller from Mars than from Earth. This makes sense since Mars is 50% further from the Sun than Earth. More striking, perhaps, is that the Martian sunset is noticeably bluer near the Sun than the typically orange colors near the setting Sun from Earth. The reason for the blue hues from Mars is not fully understood, but thought to be related to forward scattering properties of Martian dust. The terrestrial sunset was taken in 2012 March from Marseille, France, while the Martian sunset was captured last month by NASA's robotic Curiosity rover from Gale crater on Mars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 30 - Across the Sun
Explanation: A long solar filament stretches across the relatively calm surface of the Sun in this telescopic snap shot from April 27. The negative or inverted narrowband image was made in the light of ionized hydrogen atoms. Seen at the upper left, the magnificent curtain of magnetized plasma towers above surface and actually reaches beyond the Sun's edge. How long is the solar filament? About as long as the distance from Earth to Moon, illustrated by the scale insert at the left. Tracking toward the right across the solar disk a day later the long filament erupted, lifting away from the Sun's surface. Monitored by Sun staring satellites, a coronal mass ejection was also blasted from the site but is expected to swing wide of our fair planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 3 - Sun and Moon Halo
Explanation: Two pictures captured on April 1 are combined in this creative day and night composite. Separated in time by about 10 hours the images otherwise match, looking along the coast at Östersund Sweden. The relative times were chosen to show the Sun and a nearly full Moon at the same place in the cold, early springtime sky. In the night scene Jupiter also shines above the waterfront lights, while Sun and Moon are both surrounded by a beautiful circular ice halo. The Sun and Moon halos really do align, each with an angular radius of 22 degrees. That radius is a constant, not determined by the brightness of Sun or Moon but only by the hexagonal geometry of atmospheric ice crystals and the reflection and refraction of light. Of course tomorrow, April 4, will find the Sun and Moon on opposite sides of planet Earth for a total lunar eclipse.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 22 - A Double Eclipse of the Sun
Explanation: Can the Sun be eclipsed twice at the same time? Last Friday was noteworthy because part of the Earth was treated to a rare total eclipse of the Sun. But also on Friday, from a part of the Earth that only saw part of the Sun eclipsed, a second object appeared simultaneously in front of the Sun: the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. Although space station eclipses are very quick -- in this case only 0.6 seconds, they are not so rare. Capturing this composite image took a lot of planning and a little luck, as the photographer had to dodge a series of third objects that kept, annoyingly, also lining up in front of the Sun: clouds. The above superposed time-lapse sequence was taken from Fregenal de la Sierra in southern Spain. The dark disk of the Moon dominates the lower right, while the Sun's textured surface shows several filaments and, over an edge, a prominence.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 21 - 45 Days in the Sun
Explanation: From January 11 to February 25 2013, a pinhole camera sat in a field near Budapest, Hungary, planet Earth to create this intriguing solargraph. And for 45 days, an old Antonov An-2 biplane stood still while the Sun rose and set. The camera's continuous exposure began about 20 days after the northern hemispere's winter solstice, so each day the Sun's trail arcs steadily higher through the sky. These days in the Sun were recorded on a piece of black and white photosensitive paper tucked in to the simple plastic film container. The long exposure produced a visible color image on the paper that was then digitally scanned. Of course, cloudy days left gaps in the solargraph's Sun trails.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 17 - Fibrils Flower on the Sun
Explanation: When does the Sun look like a flower? In a specific color of red light emitted by hydrogen, as featured here, some regions of the solar chromosphere may resemble a rose. The color-inverted image was taken in 2014 October and shows active solar region 2177. The petals dominating the frame are actually magnetically confined tubes of hot plasma called fibrils, some of which extend longer than the diameter of the Earth. In the central region many of these fibrils are seen end-on, while the surrounding regions are typically populated with curved fibrils. When seen over the Sun's edge, these huge plasma tubes are called spicules, and when they occur in passive regions they are termed mottles. Sunspot region 2177 survived for several more days before the complex and tumultuous magnetic field poking through the Sun's surface evolved yet again.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 10 - An Extremely Long Filament on the Sun
Explanation: Yesterday, the Sun exhibited one of the longest filaments ever recorded. It may still be there today. Visible as the dark streak just below the center in the featured image, the enormous filament extended across the face of the Sun a distance even longer than the Sun's radius -- over 700,000 kilometers. A filament is actually hot gas held aloft by the Sun's magnetic field, so that viewed from the side it would appear as a raised prominence. The featured image shows the filament in light emitted by hydrogen and therefore highlights the Sun's chromosphere. Sun-following telescopes including NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) are tracking this unusual feature, with SDO yesterday recording a spiraling magnetic field engulfing it. Since filaments typically last only from hours to days, parts of this one may collapse or erupt at any time, either returning hot plasma back to the Sun or expelling it into the Solar System. Is the filament still there? You can check by clicking on SDO's current solar image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 December 29 - The Sun in X rays from NuSTAR
Explanation: Why are the regions above sunspots so hot? Sunspots themselves are a bit cooler than the surrounding solar surface because the magnetic fields that create them reduce convective heating. It is therefore unusual that regions overhead -- even much higher up in the Sun's corona -- can be hundreds of times hotter. To help find the cause, NASA directed the Earth-orbiting Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite to point its very sensitive X-ray telescope at the Sun. Featured above is the Sun in ultraviolet light, shown in a red hue as taken by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Superimposed in false-colored green and blue is emission above sunspots detected by NuSTAR in different bands of high-energy X-rays, highlighting regions of extremely high temperature. Clues about the Sun's atmospheric heating mechanisms may not only come from this initial image, but future NuSTAR images aimed at finding hypothesized nanoflares, brief bursts of energy that may drive the unusual heating.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 27 - Plane, Clouds, Moon, Spots, Sun
Explanation: What's that in front of the Sun? The closest object is an airplane, visible just below the Sun's center and caught purely by chance. Next out are numerous clouds in Earth's atmosphere, creating a series of darkened horizontal streaks. Farther out is Earth's Moon, seen as the large dark circular bite on the upper right. Just above the airplane and just below the Sun's surface are sunspots. The main sunspot group captured here, AR 2192, is one of the largest ever recorded and has been crackling and bursting with flares since it came around the edge of the Sun early last week. Taken last Thursday, this show of solar silhouettes was unfortunately short-lived. Within a few seconds the plane flew away. Within a few minutes the clouds drifted off. Within a few hours the partial solar eclipse of the Sun by the Moon was over. Only the sunspot group remains, but within a few more days even AR 2192 will disappear around the edge of the Sun. Fortunately, when it comes to the Sun, even unexpected alignments are surprisingly frequent.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 7 - From the Temple of the Sun to the Temple of the Moon
Explanation: What connects the Sun to the Moon? Many answers have been given throughout history, but in the case of today's featured image, it appears to be the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. The 16-image panorama was taken in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA where two sandstone monoliths -- the Temple of the Moon on the right and the Temple of the Sun on the left -- rise dramatically from the desert. Each natural monument stands about 100 meters tall and survives from the Jurassic period 160 million years ago. Even older are many of the stars and nebulas that dot the celestial background, including the Andromeda Galaxy. Tomorrow the Earth will connect the Sun to the Moon by way of its shadow: a total lunar eclipse will be visible from many locations around the globe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 August 24 - Mercury's Transit: An Unusual Spot on the Sun
Explanation: What's that dot on the Sun? If you look closely, it is almost perfectly round. The dot is the result of an unusual type of solar eclipse that occurred in 2006. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. This time, the planet Mercury took a turn. Like the approach to New Moon before a solar eclipse, the phase of Mercury became a continually thinner crescent as the planet progressed toward an alignment with the Sun. Eventually the phase of Mercury dropped to zero and the dark spot of Mercury crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Mercurian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. From above the cratered planes of the night side of Mercury, the Earth appeared in its fullest phase. Hours later, as Mercury continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Mercurian solar eclipse will occur in 2016.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 June 4 - A Green Flash from the Sun
Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A dramatic green flash, as well as an even more rare red flash, was caught in the above photograph recently observed during a sunset visible from the Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos in the Canary Islands, Spain. The Sun itself does not turn partly green or red -- the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 May 6 - Orange Sun Sparking
Explanation: Our Sun has become quite a busy place. Taken only two weeks ago, the Sun was captured sporting numerous tumultuous regions including active sunspot regions AR 2036 near the image top and AR 2038 near the center. Only four years ago the Sun was emerging from an unusually quiet Solar Minimum that had lasted for years. The above image was recorded in a single color of light called Hydrogen Alpha, inverted, and false colored. Spicules cover much of the Sun's face like a carpet. The gradual brightening towards the Sun's edges is caused by increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas and called limb darkening. Just over the Sun's edges, several filamentary prominences protrude, while prominences on the Sun's face are seen as light streaks. Possibly the most visually interesting of all are the magnetically tangled active regions containing relatively cool sunspots, seen as white dots. Currently at Solar Maximum -- the most active phase in its 11-year magnetic cycle, the Sun's twisted magnetic field is creating numerous solar "sparks" which include eruptive solar prominences, coronal mass ejections, and flares which emit clouds of particles that may impact the Earth and cause auroras. One flare two years ago released such a torrent of charged particles into the Solar System that it might have disrupted satellites and compromised power grids had it struck planet Earth.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 12 - The Sun Rotating
Explanation: Does the Sun change as it rotates? Yes, and the changes can vary from subtle to dramatic. In the above time-lapse sequences, our Sun -- as imaged by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory -- is shown rotating though the entire month of January. In the large image on the left, the solar chromosphere is depicted in ultraviolet light, while the smaller and lighter image to its upper right simultaneously shows the more familiar solar photosphere in visible light. The rest of the inset six Sun images highlight X-ray emission by relatively rare iron atoms located at different heights of the corona, all false-colored to accentuate differences. The Sun takes just under a month to rotate completely -- rotating fastest at the equator. A large and active sunspot region rotates into view soon after the video starts. Subtle effects include changes in surface texture and the shapes of active regions. Dramatic effects include numerous flashes in active regions, and fluttering and erupting prominences visible all around the Sun's edge. This year our Sun is near its Solar maximum activity of its 11-year magnetic cycle. As the video ends, the same large and active sunspot region previously mentioned rotates back into view, this time looking different.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 4 - Sun and Prominence
Explanation: Dramatic prominences can sometimes be seen looming just beyond the edge of the sun. Such was the case last week as a large prominence, visible above, highlighted a highly active recent Sun. A waving sea of hot gas is visible in the foreground chromosphere in great detail as it was imaged in one specific color of light emitted by hydrogen. A solar prominence is a cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by the Sun's magnetic field. The Earth, illustrated in the inset, is smaller than the prominence. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the photosphere below them. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System, some of which may strike the Earth and trigger auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 15 - The Flash Spectrum of the Sun
Explanation: In a flash, the visible spectrum of the Sun changed from absorption to emission on November 3rd, during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse. That fleeting moment is captured by telephoto lens and diffraction grating in this well-timed image from clearing skies over Gabon in equatorial Africa. With overwhelming light from the Sun's disk blocked by the Moon, the normally dominant absorption spectrum of the solar photosphere is hidden. What remains, spread by the diffraction grating into the spectrum of colors to the right of the eclipsed Sun, are individual eclipse images at each wavelength of light emitted by atoms along the thin arc of the solar chromosphere. The brightest images, or strongest chromospheric emission lines, are due to Hydrogen atoms that produce the red hydrogen alpha emission at the far right and blue hydrogen beta emission to the left. In between, the bright yellow emission image is caused by atoms of Helium, an element only first discovered in the flash spectrum of the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 11 - An Active Sun During a Total Eclipse
Explanation: Sometimes, a total eclipse of the Sun is an opportunity. Taking advantage of such, the above image shows the solar eclipse earlier this month as covered and uncovered by several different solar observatories. The innermost image shows the Sun in ultraviolet light as recorded over a few hours by the SWAP instrument aboard the PROBA2 mission in a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit. This image is surrounded by a ground-based eclipse image, reproduced in blue, taken from Gabon. Further out is a circularly blocked region used to artificially dim the central sun by the LASCO instrument aboard the Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft. The outermost image -- showing the outflowing solar corona -- was taken by LASCO ten minutes after the eclipse and shows an outflowing solar corona. Over the past few weeks, our Sun has been showing an unusually high amount of sunspots, CMEs, and flares -- activity that was generally expected as the Sun is currently going through Solar Maximum -- the busiest part of its 11 year solar cycle. The above resultant image is a picturesque montage of many solar layers at once that allows solar astronomers to better match up active areas on or near the Sun's surface with outflowing jets in the Sun's corona.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 2 - All the Colors of the Sun
Explanation: It is still not known why the Sun's light is missing some colors. Here are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun's light through a prism-like device. The spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our white-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it does indeed appear brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the above spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun's surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1870 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 20 - Venus and the Triply Ultraviolet Sun
Explanation: An unusual type of solar eclipse occurred last year. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. Last June, most unusually, the planet Venus took a turn. Like a solar eclipse by the Moon, the phase of Venus became a continually thinner crescent as Venus became increasingly better aligned with the Sun. Eventually the alignment became perfect and the phase of Venus dropped to zero. The dark spot of Venus crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Venusian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. Pictured above during the occultation, the Sun was imaged in three colors of ultraviolet light by the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, with the dark region toward the right corresponding to a coronal hole. Hours later, as Venus continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Venusian solar eclipse will occur in 2117.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 27 - Bird Sun Dog
Explanation: Have you ever seen a little rainbow off to the side of the Sun? Rare but rewarding to see, such spectacles are known as sundogs, mock suns or parhelia. Sundogs are just sunlight refracting through hexagonal falling ice crystals in the Earth's atmosphere. When thin ice crystals flitter down nearly horizontally, they best refract sunlight sideways and create sundogs. Alternatively, randomly oriented ice crystals may create a complete circular sun halo. Sundogs occur 22 degrees to each side of a setting or rising Sun, although sometimes nearby clouds can block one or both. The above image was taken through a polarizing filter during October 2012 in Mrida, Spain.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 20 - Blue Sun Bursting
Explanation: Our Sun is not a giant blueberry. Our Sun can be made to appear similar to the diminutive fruit, however, by imaging it in a specific color of extreme violet light called CaK that is emitted by the very slight abundance of ionized Calcium in the Sun's atmosphere, and then false color-inverting the image. This solar depiction is actually scientifically illuminating as a level of the Sun's chromosphere appears quite prominent, showing a crackly textured surface, cool sunspots appearing distinctly bright, and surrounding hot active regions appearing distinctly dark. The Sun is currently near the maximum activity level in its 11 year cycle, and has emitted powerful flares over the past week. During times of high activity, streams of energetic particles from Sun may impact the Earth's magnetosphere and set off spectacular auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 February 26 - Coronal Rain on the Sun
Explanation: Does it rain on the Sun? Yes, although what falls is not water but extremely hot plasma. An example occurred in mid-July 2012 after an eruption on the Sun that produced both a Coronal Mass Ejection and a moderate solar flare. What was more unusual, however, was what happened next. Plasma in the nearby solar corona was imaged cooling and falling back, a phenomenon known as coronal rain. Because they are electrically charged, electrons, protons, and ions in the rain were gracefully channeled along existing magnetic loops near the Sun's surface, making the scene appear as a surreal three-dimensional sourceless waterfall. The resulting surprisingly-serene spectacle is shown in ultraviolet light and highlights matter glowing at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. Each second in the above time lapse video takes about 6 minutes in real time, so that the entire coronal rain sequence lasted about 10 hours.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 18 - A Sun Pillar Over Sweden
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, six-sided shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture taken last week, a sun-pillar reflects light from a Sun setting over stersund, Sweden.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 15 - Black Sun and Inverted Starfield
Explanation: Does this strange dark ball look somehow familiar? If so, that might be because it is our Sun. In the above image, a detailed solar view was captured originally in a very specific color of red light, then rendered in black and white, and then color inverted. Once complete, the resulting image was added to a starfield, then also color inverted. Visible in the above image of the Sun are long light filaments, dark active regions, prominences peeking around the edge, and a moving carpet of hot gas. The surface of our Sun has become a particularly busy place over the past two years because it is now nearing Solar Maximum, the time when its surface magnetic field is wound up the most. Besides an active Sun being so picturesque, the plasma expelled can also become picturesque when it impacts the Earth's magnetosphere and creates auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 September 23 - Equinox: The Sun from Solstice to Solstice
Explanation: Yesterday was an equinox, a date when day and night are equal. Today, and every day until the next equinox, the night will be longer than the day in Earth's northern hemisphere, and the day will be longer than the night in Earth's southern hemisphere. An equinox occurs midway between the two solstices, when the days and nights are the least equal. The picture is a composite of hourly images taken of the Sun above Bursa, Turkey on key days from solstice to equinox to solstice. The bottom Sun band was taken during the winter solstice in 2007 December, when the Sun could not rise very high in the sky nor stay above the horizon very long. This lack of Sun caused winter. The top Sun band was taken during the summer solstice in 2008 June, when the Sun rose highest in the sky and stayed above the horizon for more than 12 hours. This abundance of Sun caused summer. The middle band was taken during the Vernal Equinox in 2008 March, but it is the same sun band that Earthlings saw yesterday, the day of the Autumnal Equinox.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 August 20 - A Filament Across the Sun
Explanation: Is that a cloud hovering over the Sun? Yes, but it is quite different than a cloud hovering over the Earth. The long light feature on the left of the above color-inverted image is actually a solar filament and is composed of mostly charged hydrogen gas held aloft by the Sun's looping magnetic field. By contrast, clouds over the Earth are usually much cooler, composed mostly of tiny water droplets, and are held aloft by upward air motions because they are weigh so little. The above filament was captured on the Sun about two weeks ago near the active solar region AR 1535 visible on the right with dark sunspots. Filaments typically last for a few days to a week, but a long filament like this might hover over the Sun's surface for a month or more. Some filaments trigger large Hyder flares if they suddenly collapse back onto the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 June 20 - Venus Transits the Midnight Sun
Explanation: Today's solstice, the astronomical beginning of summer in the north, is at 23:09 UT when the Sun reaches the northernmost declination in its yearly trek through planet Earth's sky. While most in the northern hemisphere will experience the longest day of the year, for some the Sun won't set at all, still standing just above the horizon at midnight as far south as about 66.6 degrees northern latitude. Of course, as summer comes to the north the midnight Sun comes earlier to higher latitudes. Recorded near midnight, this time series from June 6 follows the Sun gliding above a mountainous horizon from a latitude of 69 degrees north. The remarkable scene looks north over the Norwegian Sea from Sortland, Norway. The 2012 transit of Venus is already in progress, with Earth's sister planet in silhouette at the upper left against the bright disk of the midnight Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 June 8 - When Venus Rises with the Sun
Explanation: This dramatic telephoto view across the Black Sea on June 6 finds Venus rising with the Sun, the planet in silhouette against a ruddy and ragged solar disk. Of course, the reddened light is due to scattering in planet Earth's atmosphere and the rare transit of Venus didn't influence the strangely shaped and distorted Sun. In fact, seeing the Sun in the shape of an Etruscan Vase is relatively common, especially compared to Venus transits. At sunset and sunrise, the effects of atmospheric refraction enhanced by long, low, sight lines and strong atmospheric temperature gradients produce the visual distortions and mirages. That situation is often favored by a sea horizon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 June 5 - Live: Watching for Venus to Cross the Sun
Explanation: Today Venus moves in front of the Sun. One way to follow this rare event is to actively reload the above live image of the Sun during the right time interval and look for an unusual circular dark dot. The smaller sprawling dark areas are sunspots. The circular dot is the planet Venus. The dark dot will only appear during a few very specific hours, from about 22:10 on 2012 June 5 through 4:50 2012 June 6, Universal Time. This transit is the rarest type of solar eclipse known -- much more rare than an eclipse of the Sun by the Moon or even by the planet Mercury. In fact, the next transit of Venus across the Sun will be in 2117. Anyone with a clear view of the Sun can go outside and carefully view the transit for themselves by projecting sunlight through a hole in a card onto a wall. Because this Venus transit is so unusual and visible from so much of the Earth, it is expected to be one of the more photographed celestial events in history. The above live image on the Sun is being taken by the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory and can be updated about every 15 minutes. Editor's note: Since the transit has ended, the live image was replaced by one taken just before Venus crossed out of Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 28 - Contemplating the Sun
Explanation: Have you contemplated your home star recently? Pictured above, a Sun partially eclipsed on the top left by the Moon is also seen eclipsed by earthlings contemplating the eclipse below. The above menagerie of silhouettes was taken from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Page, Arizona, USA, where park rangers and astronomers expounded on the unusual event to interested gatherers. Also faintly visible on the Sun's disk, just to the lower right of the dark Moon's disk, is a group of sunspots. Although exciting, some consider this event a warm-up act for next week's chance to comtemplate the Sun -- a much more rare partial eclipse by the planet Venus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 11 - Sun vs Super Moon
Explanation: The Super Moon wins, by just a little, when its apparent size is compared to the Sun in this ingenious composite picture. To make it, the Full Moon on May 6 was photographed with the same camera and telescope used to image the Sun (with a dense solar filter!) on the following day. Of course, on May 6 the Moon was at perigee, the closest point to Earth in its eliptical orbit, making it the largest Full Moon of 2012. Two weeks later, on May 20, the Moon will be near apogee, the most distant point in its orbit, so by then it will be nearly at its smallest apparent size. It will also be a dark New Moon on that date. And for some the New Moon will be surprisingly easy to compare to the Sun, because on May 20 the first solar eclipse of 2012 will be visible from much of Asia, the Pacific, and North America. Along a path 240 to 300 kilometers wide, the eclipse will be annular. Near apogee the smaller silhouetted Moon will fit just inside the bright solar disk.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 19 - Sunspot Group 1429 and the Distant Sun
Explanation: What's that on the Sun? Over the past two weeks, one of the most energetic sunspot regions of recent years crossed the face of the Sun. Active Region 1429, visible above as the group of dark spots on the Sun's upper right, blasted out several solar flares and coronal mass ejections since coming around the edge of the Sun almost a month ago. Fast moving particles from these solar explosions have impacted the Earth and been responsible for many colorful auroras seen over the past two weeks. The picturesque foreground features trees and birds near Merida, Spain, where the above image was taken about a week ago. Although AR 1429 has continued to rotate to the right and gone around the limb of the Sun -- as seen from the Earth -- monitoring of the region will be continued by one of the STEREO satellites, however, which is orbiting the Sun well ahead of the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 December 22 - Through a Sun Tunnel
Explanation: Today the Sun stands still at 05:30 UT. Halting its steady march toward southern declinations and begining its annual journey north, the event is known as a solstice. In the northern hemisphere December's solstice marks the astronomical start of winter. And if you're in the Great Basin Desert outside of Lucin, Utah, USA, near solstice dates you can watch the Sun rise and set through Sun Tunnels. A monumental earthwork by artist Nancy Holt, the Sun Tunnels are constructed of four 9 foot diameter cast concrete pipes each 18 feet long. The tunnels are arranged in a wide X to achieve the solstitial sunset and sunrise alignments. In this dramatic snapshot through a Sun Tunnel the Sun is just on the horizon. The cold, cloudy sunset was near the 2010 winter solstice. During daylight hours, holes in the sides of the pipes project spots of sunlight on their interior walls, forming a map of the principal stars in the constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Fans of planet earthworks and celestial landart should note that the Sun Tunnels are about 150 miles by car from Robert Smithson's (Holt's late husband) Spiral Jetty.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 November 15 - Orange Sun Scintillating
Explanation: Our Sun is becoming a busy place. Taken just last week, the Sun was captured sporting numerous interesting features including one of the larger sunspot groups yet recorded: AR 1339 visible on the image right. Only last year, the Sun was emerging from an unusually quiet Solar Minimum that lasted for years. The above image was recorded in a single color of light called Hydrogen Alpha, inverted, and false colored. Spicules cover much of the Sun's face. The gradual brightening towards the Sun's edges is caused by increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas and called limb darkening. Just over the Sun's edges, several scintillating prominences protrude, while prominences on the Sun's face are seen as light streaks. Possibly the most visually interesting of all are the magnetically tangled active regions containing cool sunspots. As our Sun's magnetic field winds toward Solar Maximum over the next few years, increased activity will likely create times when the Sun's face is even more complex.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 November 6 - Orange Sun Oozing
Explanation: The Sun's surface keeps changing. The above movie shows how the Sun's surface oozes during a single hour. The Sun's photosphere has thousands of bumps called granules and usually a few dark depressions called sunspots. The above time-lapse movie centered on Sunspot 875 was taken in 2006 by the Vacuum Tower Telescope in the Canary Islands of Spain using adaptive optics to resolve details below 500 kilometers across. Each of the numerous granules is the size of an Earth continent, but much shorter lived. A granule slowly changes its shape over an hour, and can even completely disappear. Hot hydrogen gas rises in the bright center of a granule, and falls back into the Sun along a dark granule edge. The above movie and similar movies allows students and solar scientists to study how granules and sunspots evolve as well as how magnetic sunspot regions produce powerful solar flares. A few days ago, the largest sunspot group in recent years rotated into view.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 5 - Comet and CME on the Sun
Explanation: Did a sun-diving comet just cause a solar explosion? Probably not. This past weekend a comet dove toward the Sun and was followed very quickly by a Coronal Mass Ejection (CMEs) from the other side of the Sun. The first two sequences in the above video shows the spectacular unfolding of events as seen by the Sun-orbiting SOHO satellite, while the same events were also captured by both Sun-orbiting STEREO satellites. Now sungrazer comets that break up as they pass near the Sun are not all that rare -- hundreds have been cataloged over the past few years. CMEs are even more common, with perhaps three lesser events occurring even during the eight hours of the above time-lapse movie. Therefore, the best bet of solar scientists is that the two events were unrelated. Another basis for this judgment is that CMEs are caused by rapid changes in the Sun's magnetic field, changes that a small comet seem unlikely to make. Such coincidences are even more likely during periods of high activity on the Sun's surface -- like now.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 25 - A Large Tsunami Shock Wave on the Sun
Explanation: Tsunamis this large don't happen on Earth. During 2006, a large solar flare from an Earth-sized sunspot produced a tsunami-type shock wave that was spectacular even for the Sun. Pictured above, the tsunami wave was captured moving out from active region AR 10930 by the Optical Solar Patrol Network (OSPAN) telescope in New Mexico, USA. The resulting shock wave, known technically as a Moreton wave, compressed and heated up gasses including hydrogen in the photosphere of the Sun, causing a momentarily brighter glow. The above image was taken in a very specific red color emitted exclusively by hydrogen gas. The rampaging tsunami took out some active filaments on the Sun, although many re-established themselves later. The solar tsunami spread at nearly one million kilometers per hour, and circled the entire Sun in a matter of minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 August 18 - A Sun Pillar Over Ontario
Explanation: What is that on the horizon? No, it's not an alien starship battling distant Earthlings, but rather a sun pillar. When driving across Ontario, Canada in early June, the photographer was surprised to encounter such an "eerie and beautiful" vista, and immediately took pictures. When the atmosphere is cold, ice sometimes forms flat six-sided crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance then causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. If viewed toward a rising or setting Sun, these flat crystals will reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light -- a sun pillar as seen above. Such columns of light are not uncommon to see, and a retrospective of past APODs that have featured picturesque sun pillars can be found here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 February 7 - Sun 360: STEREO Captures Views of the Entire Sun
Explanation: For the first time, the entire Sun is being imaged all at once. This has become possible because the two STEREO satellites orbiting and monitoring the Sun are now on opposite sides of the Sun. The two satellites have been drifting apart, as expected, since their launch in 2006, since one satellite orbits slightly closer to the Sun than the other. The above image shows nearly the entire Sun as it appeared one day last week, a few days before maximum exposure. Yesterday, the dark gap in the center closed completely, and STEREO was able to beam back to Earth full 360 degree images of the closest star. Full solar images are useful scientifically for a number of reasons, including catching rapidly evolving flares, coronal mass ejections, tsunamis, and filaments, no matter where they occur on the Sun, as well as monitoring days-long sunspots and active regions without losing them as they rotate out of view. Even though the STEREO satellites will continue to drift apart at about 44 degrees per year, Sun-staring instruments on or near the Earth will augment them to provide a full view of the Sun for the next several years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 10 - A Sun Halo Beyond Stockholm
Explanation: What's happened to the Sun? Sometimes it looks like the Sun is being viewed through a large lens. In the above case, however, there are actually millions of lenses: ice crystals. As water freezes in the upper atmosphere, small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals might be formed. As these crystals flutter to the ground, much time is spent with their faces flat, parallel to the ground. An observer may pass through the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset. During this alignment, each crystal can act like a miniature lens, refracting sunlight into our view and creating phenomena like parhelia, the technical term for sundogs. The above image was taken last year in Stockholm, Sweden. Visible in the image center is the Sun, while two bright sundogs glow prominently from both the left and the right. Also visible is the bright 22 degree halo -- as well as the rarer and much fainter 46 degree halo -- also created by sunlight reflecting off of atmospheric ice crystals.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 4 - A Green Flash from the Sun
Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A dramatic green flash, as well as an even more rare blue flash, was caught in the above photograph recently observed during a sunset visible from Teide Observatory at Tenerife, Cannary Islands, Spain. The Sun itself does not turn partly green or blue -- the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 November 2 - Spicules: Jets on the Sun
Explanation: Imagine a pipe as wide as a state and as long as the Earth. Now imagine that this pipe is filled with hot gas moving 50,000 kilometers per hour. Further imagine that this pipe is not made of metal but a transparent magnetic field. You are envisioning just one of thousands of young spicules on the active Sun. Pictured above is one of the highest resolution image yet of these enigmatic solar flux tubes. Spicules line the above frame of solar active region 11092 that crossed the Sun last month, but are particularly evident converging on the sunspot on the lower left. Time-sequenced images have recently shown that spicules last about five minutes, starting out as tall tubes of rapidly rising gas but eventually fading as the gas peaks and falls back down to the Sun. What determines the creation and dynamics of spicules remains a topic of active research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 18 - It Came from the Sun
Explanation: What's that coming over the edge of the Sun? What might appear at first glance to be some sort of Sun monster is actually a solar prominence. The above prominence, captured by the Sun-orbiting SOHO satellite earlier this year during an early stage of its eruption, rapidly became one of the largest ever on record. Even as pictured, the prominence is huge -- the Earth would easily fit inside. A solar prominence is a thin cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by the Sun's magnetic field. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, while an eruptive prominence like the one developing above may erupt within hours into a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), expelling hot gas into the Solar System. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the surface. As our Sun evolves toward Solar maximum over the next three years, more large eruptive prominences are expected.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 23 - Equinox and the Iron Sun
Explanation: Today, the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south at 03:09 Universal Time. Known as an equinox, this astronomical event marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the south. Equinox means equal night. With the Sun on the celestial equator, Earth dwellers will experience nearly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Of course, in the north the days continue to grow shorter, the Sun marching lower in the sky as winter approaches. To celebrate the equinox, consider this view of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light from the Sun staring Solar Dynamics Observatory. Recorded yesterday, the false-color image shows emission from highly ionized iron atoms. Loops and arcs trace the glowing plasma suspended in magnetic fields above solar active regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 August 28 - Hole in the Sun
Explanation: This ominous, dark shape sprawling across the face of the Sun is a coronal hole -- a low density region extending above the surface where the solar magnetic field opens freely into interplanetary space. Studied extensively from space since the 1960s in ultraviolet and x-ray light, coronal holes are known to be the source of the high-speed solar wind, atoms and electrons which flow outward along the open magnetic field lines. During periods of low activity, coronal holes typically cover regions just above the Sun's poles. But this extensive coronal hole dominated the Sun's northern hemisphere earlier this week, captured here in extreme ultraviolet light by cameras onboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The solar wind streaming from this coronal hole triggered auroral displays on planet Earth.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 21 - The Crown of the Sun
Explanation: During a total solar eclipse, the Sun's extensive outer atmosphere, or corona, is an inspirational sight. Subtle shades and shimmering features that engage the eye span a brightness range of over 10,000 to 1, making them notoriously difficult to capture in a single photograph. But this composite of 7 consecutive digital images over a range of exposure times comes close to revealing the crown of the Sun in all its glory. The telescopic views were recorded from the Isla de Pascua (Easter Island) during July 11's total solar eclipse and also show solar prominences extending just beyond the edge of the eclipsed sun. Remarkably, features on the dim, near side of the New Moon can also be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a Full Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 July 4 - Companion of a Young, Sun-like Star Confirmed
Explanation: The first direct image of an extrasolar planet orbiting a star similar to our Sun has been confirmed. Located just 500 light-years away toward the constellation Scorpius, the parent star, cataloged as 1RXS J160929.1-210524, is only slightly less massive and a little cooler than the Sun. The star is, however, much younger, a few million years old compared to the middle-aged Sun's 5 billion years. This sharp infrared image shows the young star's planetary companion positioned above and left of center. The planet is estimated to have a mass about 8 times the mass of Jupiter, and orbit a whopping 330 times the Earth-Sun distance from its parent star. The young planetary companion is still hot and relatively bright in infrared light, likely due to the heat generated during its formation by gravitational contraction. In fact, such newborn planets are easier to detect before they age and cool and become much more faint. The discovery image, shown above, was taken in 2008 but confirmed only recently by noting that the planet stayed with its parent star as background stars slightly shifted over time.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 June 27 - All the Colors of the Sun
Explanation: It is still not known why the Sun's light is missing some colors. Shown above are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun's light through a prism-like device. The above spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our white-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it does indeed appear brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the above spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun's surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1870 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 June 9 - Orange Sun Simmering
Explanation: Even a quiet Sun can be a busy place. And over the deep Solar Minimum of the past few years, our Sun has been unusually quiet. The above image, taken last week in a single color of light called Hydrogen Alpha and then false colored, records a great amount of detail of the simmering surface of our parent star. The gradual brightening towards the Sun's edge in this color-inverted image, called limb darkening, is caused by increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas. Just over the Sun's edges, several prominences are visible, while two prominences on the Sun's face are seen as light streaks just above and right of the image center. Two particularly active areas of the Sun are marked by dark plages. In contrast to recent quiet times, our Sun is moving toward Solar Maximum, and for years will likely appear much more active.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 March 23 - Reinvigorated Sun and Prominence
Explanation: Dramatic prominences can sometimes be seen looming just beyond the edge of the sun. Such was the case last week as a giant prominence, visible above on the right, highlighted a Sun showing increased activity as it comes off an unusually quiet Solar Minimum. A changing carpet of hot gas is visible in the chromosphere of the Sun in the above image taken in a very specific color of light emitted by hydrogen. A solar prominence is a cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by the Sun's magnetic field. The Earth would easily fit below the prominence on the right. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the surface. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. The next day, the same prominence looked slightly different.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 February 23 - Exceptional Rocket Waves Destroy Sun Dog
Explanation: What created those rocket waves, and why did they destroy that sun dog? Close inspection of the above image shows not only a rocket rising near the center, but unusual air ripples around it and a colorful sundog to the far right. The rocket, carrying the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), lifted off two weeks ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA into a cold blue sky. The SDO is designed to observe the Sun continuously over the next several years, exploring the Sun's atmosphere at high resolution and fast time scales. The air ripples -- seen about one minute after launch -- were unexpected, as was the sudden disappearance of the sundog after the ripples passed. Noticed and recorded by several onlookers, there has been much speculation about the origin of the ripples. An ongoing discussion about them can be joined here in APOD's discussion board the Asterisk. A leading hypothesis holds that the ripples resulted from a sonic boom created as the rocket broke the sound barrier, which then jumbled a thin layer of ice crystals that were aligned to create the sundog. Lingering questions include why other rocket launches don't produce air ripples as noticeable, and why the ripples appeared more prominent above the rocket. If you know of images of any other aircraft or spacecraft that have produced similar air ripples, please post them to the discussion thread -- they may be help create a better understanding of the effect.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 February 8 - A Sun Halo Over Cambodia
Explanation: Have you ever seen a halo around the Sun? This fairly common sight occurs when high thin clouds containing millions of tiny ice crystals cover much of the sky. Each ice crystal acts like a miniature lens. Because most of the crystals have a similar elongated hexagonal shape, light entering one crystal face and exiting through the opposing face refracts 22 degrees, which corresponds to the radius of the Sun halo. A similar Moon halo may be visible during the night. Pictured above, a nearly complete sun halo was photographed high above the ancient Bayon temple in Angkor, Cambodia. Exactly how ice-crystals form in clouds remains under investigation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 January 16 - New Year Sun Grazer
Explanation: Intense and overwhelming, the direct glare of the Sun is blocked by the smooth occulting disk in this image from the sun-staring SOHO spacecraft. Taken on January 3rd, an extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun to scale, is superimposed at the center of the disk. Beyond the disk's outer boundary is a sungrazer comet, one of the brightest yet seen by SOHO. The comet was discovered (movie link) by Australian amateur astronomer Alan Watson, while examining earlier images from another sun-watching spacecraft, STEREO-A. Based on their orbits, sungrazers are believed to belong to the Kreutz family of comets, created by successive break ups from a single large parent comet that passed very near the Sun in the twelfth century. Subjected to strong tidal forces and intense solar heat, this sungrazer comet did not survive its close encounter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 November 4 - Blue Sun Bristling
Explanation: Our Sun may look like all soft and fluffy, but it's not. Our Sun is an extremely large ball of bubbling hot gas, mostly hydrogen gas. The above picture of our Sun was taken last month in a specific red color of light emitted by hydrogen gas called Hydrogen-alpha and then color inverted to appear blue. In this light, details of the Sun's chromosphere are particularly visible, highlighting numerous thin tubes of magnetically-confined hot gas known as spicules rising from the Sun like bristles from a shag carpet. Our Sun glows because it is hot, but it is not on fire. Fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and there is very little oxygen on the Sun. The energy source of our Sun is the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium deep within its core. No sunspots or large active regions were visible on the Sun this day, although some solar prominences are visible around the edges.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 April 5 Orange Sun Oozing
Explanation: The Sun's surface keeps changing. Click the central arrow and watch how the Sun's surface oozes during a single hour. The Sun's photosphere has thousands of bumps called granules and usually a few dark depressions called sunspots. The above time-lapse movie centered on Sunspot 875 was taken in 2006 by the Vacuum Tower Telescope in the Canary Islands of Spain using adaptive optics to resolve details below 500 kilometers across. Each of the numerous granules is the size of an Earth continent, but much shorter lived. A granule slowly changes its shape over an hour, and can even completely disappear. Hot hydrogen gas rises in the bright center of a granule, and falls back into the Sun along a dark granule edge. The above movie and similar movies allows students and solar scientists to study how granules and sunspots evolve as well as how magnetic sunspot regions produce powerful solar flares.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 December 15 - A Sun Pillar Over North Carolina
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, six-sided shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture taken in 2007 January, a sun-pillar reflects light from a Sun setting over Lake Norman, North Carolina, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 2 - Spicules: Jets on the Sun
Explanation: Imagine a pipe as wide as a state and as long as half the Earth. Now imagine that this pipe is filled with hot gas moving 50,000 kilometers per hour. Further imagine that this pipe is not made of metal but a transparent magnetic field. You are envisioning just one of thousands of young spicules on the active Sun. Pictured above is perhaps the highest resolution image yet of these enigmatic solar flux tubes. Spicules dot the above frame of solar active region 10380 that crossed the Sun in 2004 June, but are particularly evident as a carpet of dark tubes on the right. Time-sequenced images have recently shown that spicules last about five minutes, starting out as tall tubes of rapidly rising gas but eventually fading as the gas peaks and falls back down to the Sun. These images also indicate that the ultimate cause of spicules is sound-like waves that flow over the Sun's surface but leak into the Sun's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 September 24 - Active Region 1002 on an Unusually Quiet Sun
Explanation: Why has the Sun been so quiet recently? No one is sure. Our Sun has shown few active regions -- that house even fewer associated sunspots -- for over a year now, and such a period of relative calm is quite unusual. What is well known is that our Sun is in a transitional period between solar cycles called a Solar Minimum, where solar activity has historically been reduced. The stark lack of surface tumult is unusual even during a Solar Minimum, however, and activity this low has not been seen for many decades. A few days ago, however, a bona-fide active region -- complete with sunspots --appeared and continues to rotate across the Sun's face. Visible above, this region, dubbed Active Region 1002 (AR 1002), was imaged in ultraviolet light yesterday by the SOHO spacecraft, which co-orbits the Sun near the Earth. Besides the tranquility on the Sun's surface, recent data from the Ulysses spacecraft, across the Solar System, indicate that the intensity of the solar wind blowing out from the Sun is at a fifty year low. Predictions hold, however, that our Sun will show more and more active regions containing more and more sunspots and flares until Solar Maximum occurs in about four years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 September 22 - Equinox: The Sun from Solstice to Solstice
Explanation: Today is an equinox, a date when day and night are equal. Tomorrow, and every day until the next equinox, the night will be longer than the day in Earth's northern hemisphere, and the day will be longer than the night in Earth's southern hemisphere. An equinox occurs midway between the two solstices, when the days and nights are the least equal. The picture is a composite of hourly images taken of the Sun above Bursa, Turkey on key days from solstice to equinox to solstice. The bottom Sun band was taken during the winter solstice in 2007 December, when the Sun could not rise very high in the sky nor stay above the horizon very long. This lack of Sun caused winter. The top Sun band was taken during the summer solstice in 2008 June, when the Sun rose highest in the sky and stayed above the horizon for more than 12 hours. This abundance of Sun caused summer. The middle band was taken during the Vernal Equinox in 2008 March, but it is the same sun band that Earthlings will see today, the day of the Autumnal Equinox.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 September 19 - Companion of a Young, Sun-like Star
Explanation: Located just 500 light-years away toward the constellation Scorpius, this star is only slightly less massive and a little cooler than the Sun. But it is much younger, a few million years old compared to the middle-aged Sun's 5 billion years. This sharp infrared image shows the young star has a likely companion positioned above and left - a hot planet with about 8 times the mass of Jupiter, orbiting a whopping 330 times the Earth-Sun distance from its parent star. The young planetary companion is still hot and relatively bright in infrared light due to the heat generated during its formation by gravitational contraction. In fact, such newborn planets are easier to detect before they age and cool, becoming much fainter. Though over 300 extrasolar planets have been found using other techniques, this picture likely represents the first direct image of a planet belonging to a star similar to the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 August 8 - The Crown of the Sun
Explanation: During a total solar eclipse, the Sun's extensive outer atmosphere, or corona, is an inspirational sight. The subtle shades and shimmering features of the corona that engage the eye span a brightness range of over 10,000 to 1, making them notoriously difficult to capture in a single picture. But this composite of 28 digital images ranging in exposure time from 1/1000 to 2 seconds comes close to revealing the crown of the Sun in all its glory. The telescopic views were recorded near Kochenevo, Russia during the August 1 total solar eclipse and also show solar prominences extending just beyond the edge of the eclipsed sun. Remarkably, features on the dark near side of the New Moon can also be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a Full Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 July 30 - The International Space Station Transits the Sun
Explanation: That's no sunspot. It's the International Space Station (ISS) caught by chance passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no solar panels. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most sophisticated machines ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots occur on the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one's timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. Strangely, besides that fake spot, the Sun, last week, lacked any real sunspots. Sunspots have been rare on the Sun since the dawn of the current Solar Minimum, a period of low solar activity. Although fewer sunspots have been recorded during this Solar Minimum than for many previous decades, the low solar activity is not, as yet, very unusual.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 December 10 - A Jet from the Sun
Explanation: What powers the solar wind? Our Sun is known to emit a powerful wind of particles with gusts that can even affect astronauts and satellites orbiting Earth. The cause of the solar wind has been debated for decades but is thought to be rooted in Alfvn waves generated by the ever changing magnetic field of the Sun. Newly released images from the Japanese Hinode satellite appear to bolster this hypothesis, imaging an average of 240 daily plasma jets that are excellent candidates to fuel the outwardly moving Alfvn waves. The jets and waves are themselves ultimately created by magnetic reconnection events, rapid events where lines of constant magnetic field suddenly move extremely rapidly, dragging electrons and protons along with them. On the image left, one such jet is visible in X-ray light. Bright spots show relatively energetic regions elsewhere on the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 November 6 - An X Class Flare Region on the Sun
Explanation: Why does the Sun flare? Unpredictably, our Sun unleashes tremendous flares expelling hot gas into the Solar System that can affect satellites, astronauts, and power grids on Earth. This close up of an active region on the Sun that produced a powerful X-class flare was captured by the orbiting TRACE satellite. Clicking on the image should bring up a movie that shows the evolution of Active Region 9906 over about four hours. The glowing gas flowing around the relatively stable magnetic field loops above the Sun's photosphere has a temperature of over ten million degrees Celsius. These flows occurred after violently unstable magnetic reconnection events above the Sun produced the flare. Many things about solar active regions are not well understood including the presence of dark regions that appear to move inward during the movie.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 July 9 - The Most Distant Sun
Explanation: When is the Sun most distant from Earth? It happened again just this past weekend. A common misconception is that the Sun is most distant during the winter, when it's the coldest. In truth, however, the seasonal temperatures are more greatly influenced by the number of daylight hours and how high the Sun rises. For example, during northern winter, the tilt of the Earth causes the Sun to be above the horizon for a shorter time and remain lower in the sky than in northern summer. The picture compares the relative size of the Sun during Earth's closest approach in January (northern winter) on the left, and in July (northern summer) on the right. The angular size of the Sun is noticeably smaller during July, when it is farther away. If the Earth's orbit was perfectly circular, the Sun would always appear to be the same size. These two solar images were taken from Spain during 2006, but the same effect can be seen in any year from any Earth-bound location.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 June 24 - All the Colors of the Sun
Explanation: It is still not known why the Sun's light is missing some colors. Shown above are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun's light through a prism-like device. The above spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our yellow-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it does indeed appear brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the above spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun's surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1870 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 June 21 - Stars and the Solstice Sun
Explanation: If you could turn off the atmosphere's ability to scatter overwhelming sunlight, today's daytime sky might look something like this ... with the Sun surrounded by the stars of the constellations Taurus and Gemini. Of course, today is the Solstice. Traveling along the ecliptic plane, the Sun is at its northernmost position in planet Earth's sky, marking the astronomical beginning of summer in the north. Accurate for the exact time of today's Solstice, this composite image also shows the Sun at the proper scale (about the angular size of the Full Moon). Open star cluster M35 is to the Sun's left, and the other two bright stars in view are Mu and Eta Geminorum. Digitally superimposed on a nighttime image of the stars, the Sun itself is a composite of a picture taken through a solar filter and a series of images of the solar corona recorded during the solar eclipse of February 26, 1998 by Andreas Gada.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 22 - Orange Sun Oozing
Explanation: The Sun's surface keeps changing. Click the central arrow and watch how the Sun's surface oozes during a single hour. The Sun's photosphere has thousands of bumps called granules and usually a few dark depressions called sunspots. The above time-lapse movie centered on Sunspot 875 was taken last year by the Vacuum Tower Telescope in the Canary Islands of Spain using adaptive optics to resolve details below 500 kilometers across. Each of the numerous granules is the size of an Earth continent, but much shorter lived. A granule slowly changes its shape over an hour, and can even completely disappear. Hot hydrogen gas rises in the bright center of a granule, and falls back into the Sun along a dark granule edge. The above movie and similar movies allow solar scientists to study how granules and sunspots evolve as well as how magnetic sunspot regions produce powerful solar flares.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 24 - The Sun in Three Dimensions
Explanation: What does the Sun look like in all three spatial dimensions? To find out, NASA launched two STEREO satellites to perceive three dimensions on the Sun much like two eyes allow humans to perceive three dimensions on the Earth. Such a perspective is designed to allow new insight into the surface of the rapidly changing Sun, allowing humans to better understand and predict things like Coronal Mass Ejections and solar flares that affect the Earth as well as satellites and astronauts orbiting the Earth. Pictured above are two simultaneous images of the Sun taken by STEREO A and STEREO B, now digitally combined to give one of the first 3-D pictures of the Sun ever taken. To fully appreciate the image, one should view it with 3-D red-blue glasses. The teeming and bubbling solar surface can be seen sporting a prominent solar prominence near the top of the image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 February 6 - Sun Storm: A Coronal Mass Ejection
Explanation: What's happening to our Sun? Another Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)! The Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft has imaged many erupting filaments lifting off the active solar surface and blasting enormous bubbles of magnetic plasma into space. Direct light from the sun is blocked in the inner part of the above image, taken in 2002, and replaced by a simultaneous image of the Sun in ultraviolet light. The field of view extends over two million kilometers from the solar surface. While hints of these explosive events, called coronal mass ejections or CMEs, were discovered by spacecraft in the early 70s, this dramatic image is part of a detailed record of this CME's development from the presently operating SOHO spacecraft. Near the minimum of the solar activity cycle CMEs occur about once a week, but near solar maximum rates of two or more per day are typical. Strong CMEs may profoundly influence space weather. Those directed toward our planet can have serious effects.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 December 13 - A Large Tsunami Shock Wave on the Sun
Explanation: Tsunamis this large don't happen on Earth. One week ago, a large solar flare from an Earth-sized sunspot produced a tsunami-type shock wave that was spectacular even for the Sun. Pictured above, the tsunami wave was captured moving out from active region AR 10930 by the Optical Solar Patrol Network (OSPAN) telescope in New Mexico, USA. The resulting shock wave, known technically as a Moreton wave, compressed and heated up gasses including hydrogen in the photosphere of the Sun, causing a momentarily brighter glow. The above image was taken in a very specific red color emitted exclusively by hydrogen gas. The rampaging tsunami took out some active filaments on the Sun, although many re-established themselves later. The solar tsunami spread at nearly one million kilometers per hour, and circled the entire Sun in a matter of minutes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 October 29 - The Sun Puffs
Explanation: Our Earth endures bursts of particles from the Sun. On 1997 April 7, at 10 am (EDT), ground monitors of the SOHO spacecraft, which continually monitors the Sun, noticed a weak spot in the solar corona was buckling again, this time letting loose a large, explosive Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Almost simultaneously, NASA's WIND spacecraft began detecting bursts of radio waves from electrons involved in this magnetic storm. Supersonic waves rippled though the solar corona as a puff of high energy gas shot out into the Solar System. The above image shows two photographs of the Sun taken about 15 minutes apart and subtracted, highlighting the explosion. CME's are not unusual. The CME gas had little lasting effect on the Earth, but likely created fleeting, if not picturesque, Earth auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 July 10 - Dark Sun Sizzling
Explanation: Is this our Sun? Yes. Even on a normal day, our Sun is sizzling ball of seething hot gas. Unpredictably, regions of strong and tangled magnetic fields arise, causing sunspots and bright active regions. The Sun's surface bubbles as hot hydrogen gas streams along looping magnetic fields. These active regions channel gas along magnetic loops, usually falling back but sometimes escaping into the solar corona or out into space as the solar wind. Pictured above is our Sun in three colors of ultraviolet light. Since only active regions emit significant amounts of energetic ultraviolet light, most of the Sun appears dark. The colorful portions glow spectacularly, pinpointing the Sun's hottest and most violent regions. Although the Sun is constantly changing, the rate of visible light it emits has been relatively stable over the past five billion years, allowing life to emerge on Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 June 13 - Driving Toward a Sun Halo
Explanation: What's happened to the Sun? Sometimes it looks like the Sun is being viewed through a large lens. In the above case, however, there are actually millions of lenses: ice crystals. As water freezes in the upper atmosphere, small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals might be formed. As these crystals flutter to the ground, much time is spent with their faces flat, parallel to the ground. An observer may pass through the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset. During this alignment, each crystal can act like a miniature lens, refracting sunlight into our view and creating phenomena like parhelia, the technical term for sundogs. The above image was taken during early 2006 February near Helsinki, Finland with a quickly deployed cellular camera phone. Visible in the image center is the Sun, while two bright sundogs glow prominently from both the left and the right. Also visible is the 22 degree halo also created by sunlight reflecting off of atmospheric ice crystals.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 January 2- A Sun Pillar Over Maine
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, six-sided shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture taken late last month, a sun-pillar reflects light from a Sun setting over Bangor, Maine, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 December 1 - SOHO s Uninterrupted View of the Sun
Explanation: Launched ten years ago this week, SOHO (the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory) still enjoys an uninterrupted view of the Sun. Twelve sungazing instruments on board the spacecraft have explored the Sun's internal structure, the extensive solar atmosphere and solar wind, and discovered over 1,000 comets from a remarkable orbit around a point about 1.5 million kilometers directly sunward of planet Earth itself. At that location, known as a Lagrange point, the gravitational influence of the Earth and Sun are equal. With scientific instrument teams distributed around the world, the SOHO operations center is located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Mission operations are planned through March of 2007 to allow the study of a complete 11-year solar cycle. Contributions from SOHO's instruments are represented in the colorful montage image. Happy tenth anniversary SOHO!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 11 - Clouds, Plane, Sun, Eclipse
Explanation: How can part of the Sun just disappear? When that part is really hiding behind the Moon. Last Friday, the first partial solar eclipse of 2005 and the last total eclipse of the Sun until March 2006 was visible. During a solar eclipse, the Sun, Moon and Earth are aligned. The total solar eclipse was primarily visible from the Southern Pacific Ocean, while a partial solar eclipse was discoverable across South America and lower North America. The above image composite was taken with a handheld digital camera last Friday. After a day of rain in Mt. Holly, North Carolina, USA, a partially eclipsed Sun momentarily peeked through a cloudy sky. After taking a sequence of images, the best eclipse shot was digitally combined with a less good eclipse shot that featured a passing airplane.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 December 6 - Filaments Across the Sun
Explanation: Two unusually long filaments crossed part of the Sun last week. The filaments are actually relatively cool and dark prominences of solar plasma held up by the Sun's magnetic field but seen against the face of the Sun. Filaments typically last a few weeks before falling back. Pictured above, the two filaments are visible on the Sun's right side. It would take twenty Earths, set end-to-end, to match the length of one of the filaments. Also visible are bright hot regions called plages and a carpet of hundreds of granules that provide the Sun's texture. The above image was taken early last week through a small telescope in a very specific color of light emitted primarily by hydrogen.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 August 2 - Spicules: Jets on the Sun
Explanation: Imagine a pipe as wide as a state and as long as half the Earth. Now imagine that this pipe is filled with hot gas moving 50,000 kilometers per hour. Further imagine that this pipe is not made of metal but a transparent magnetic field. You are envisioning just one of thousands of young spicules on the active Sun. Pictured above is perhaps the highest resolution image yet of these enigmatic solar flux tubes. Spicules dot the above frame of solar active region 10380 that crossed the Sun in June, but are particularly evident as a carpet of dark tubes on the right. Time-sequenced images have recently shown that spicules last about five minutes, starting out as tall tubes of rapidly rising gas but eventually fading as the gas peaks and falls back down to the Sun. These images also indicate, for the first time, that the ultimate cause of spicules is sound-like waves that flow over the Sun's surface but leak into the Sun's atmosphere.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 26 - A Large Active Region Crosses the Sun
Explanation: An unexpectedly large sunspot region is now crossing the Sun. The active region is home to rivers of hot plasma, explosive flares, strong magnetic fields, a powerful Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), and a sunspot group so large it can be seen by the protected eye without magnification. In fact, this region appears larger than Venus did when it crossed the Sun last month. Pictured above is a close-up of this sunspot group, officially tagged AR 10652, taken just four days ago. The region is now nearing the Sun's eastern limb and will disappear from view in a few days. Energetic ions from sunspot group 652 continue to impact the Earth and create rare purple auroras.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 20 - Space Station, Venus, Sun
Explanation: On June 8, Venus was not the only celestial object to pass in front of the Sun. A few well-situated photographers caught the International Space Station also crossing the Sun simultaneously. Pictured above is a unique time-lapse image of the unprecedented double transit, a rare event that was visible for less than a second from a narrow band on Earth. The above image is a combination of 12 frames taken 0.033 seconds apart and each themselves lasting only 1/10,000 th of a second. The image was taken from the small village of Stupava in Slovakia. The next time Venus will appear to cross the Sun from Earth will be in 2012.

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: 2004 April 19 - Comet Bradfield Passes the Sun
Explanation: Today, Comet Bradfield is passing the Sun. The above image, taken yesterday in the direction of the Sun by the SOHO LASCO instrument, shows the comet and its dust tail as the elongated white streak. The Sun would normally be seen in the very center but has been blocked from view. Comet C/2004 F4 (Bradfield) was discovered just one month ago and has brightened dramatically as it neared the Sun. Careful sky gazers can see Comet Bradfield with the unaided eye near the Sun, although NASA's sun-orbiting SOHO satellite has the best view. During the day, Comet Bradfield will continually shift inside the LASCO frame as it rounds the Sun. There is even the possibility that the comet will break up. If not, the bright comet's trajectory will carry it outside the field of LASCO sometime tomorrow. Along with T7 and Q4, Comet Bradfield is now the third comet that is currently visible on the sky with the unaided eye, the most ever of which we are aware and quite possibly the most in recorded history.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 March 21 - A Green Flash from the Sun
Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A dramatic green flash was caught in the above photograph in 1992 from Finland. The Sun itself does not turn partly green, the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 22 - Moon AND Sun
Explanation: This composite image was made from 22 separate pictures of the Moon and Sun all taken from Chisamba, Zambia during the total phase of the 2001 June 21 solar eclipse. The multiple exposures were digitally processed and combined to simultaneously show a wealth of detail which no single camera exposure or naked-eye observation could easily reveal. Most striking are the incredible flowing streamers of the Sun's outer atmosphere or solar corona, notoriously difficult to see except when the new Moon blocks the bright solar disk. Features on the darkened near side of the Moon can also be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a full Earth. A giant solar prominence seems to hang just beyond the Moon's eastern (left) edge while about one diameter farther east of the eclipsed Sun is the relatively faint (4th magnitude) star 1 Geminorum. The still active Sun will be totally eclipsed by the Moon tomorrow, but the path of the total eclipse will mostly cross the relatively inaccessible continent of Antarctica.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 29 -Orange Sun Simmering
Explanation: Even a quiet Sun is a busy place. The above image, taken in a single color of light called Hydrogen Alpha, records a great amount of detail of the simmering surface of our parent star. The gradual darkening towards the Sun's edge, called limb darkening, is caused by increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas. Further over the edge, a giant prominence is visible, while a different prominence can be seen in silhouette as the dark streak near the image center. Two active areas of the Sun are marked by bright plages. The above amateur photograph of the Sun was taken just last month through a small telescope and a standard digital camera. In contrast, there are times when our Sun appears much more active.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 7 - At the Edge of the Sun
Explanation: Dramatic prominences can sometimes be seen looming just beyond the edge of the sun. A solar prominence is a cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by the Sun's magnetic field. The Earth would easily fit below the prominence on the left. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the surface. The above image in false color was taken on June 1 from Stuttgart, Germany with an amateur telescope and camera.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 June 24 - The Sun's Surface in 3D
Explanation: How smooth is the Sun? The new Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope, deployed in the Canary Islands only last year, allows imaging of objects less than 100-km across on the Sun's surface. When pointed toward the Sun's edge, surface objects now begin to block each other, indicating true three-dimensional information. Close inspection of the image reveals much vertical information, including spectacular light-bridges rising nearly 500-km above the floor of sunspots near the top of the image. Also visible in the above false-color image are hundreds of bubbling granules, each about 1000-km across, and small bright regions known as faculas.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 June 18 - Clouds and the Moon Move to Block the Sun
Explanation: High above a small church near Vienna, Austria, clouds and the Moon vied for position in front of the Sun. Such was the case on the ground late last month during a partial eclipse of the Sun visible throughout Europe and Asia. Nearing the farthest part of its orbit around the Earth, the Moon's angular size was too small to block the entire Sun, a situation that would have resulted in a total solar eclipse. The next solar eclipse visible from Earth will occur on November 23. Although a total eclipse will be visible only from parts of Antarctica, parts of the Sun will momentarily disappear for observers across Australia, New Zealand, and the southernmost tip of South America.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 May 13 - Mercury Transits the Sun
Explanation: How big is the Sun? The Sun is not only larger than any planet, it is larger than all of the planets put together. The Sun accounts for about 99.9 percent of all the mass in its Solar System. Merely stating the Sun's diameter is about 1,400,000 kilometers does not do it justice. Last week a chance to gain visual size perspective occurred when planet Mercury made a rare crossing in front to Sun. Mercury, a planet over a third of the diameter of our Earth, is the dark dot on the upper right. In comparison to the Sun, Mercury is so small it is initially hard to spot. Also visible on the Sun are dark circular sunspots, bright plages, and dark elongated prominences -- many of which are larger than Mercury. The above contrast-enhanced picture was captured last week from France.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 February 24 - Comet NEAT Passes an Erupting Sun
Explanation: As Comet NEAT flared last week, the Sun roared. Just as the comet swooped inside the orbit of Mercury and developed a long and flowing tail of gas and dust, the Sun emitted a huge Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Neither the fortuitous hot ball of solar gas nor the intense glare of sunlight appeared to disrupt the comet's nucleus. The action was too close to the Sun to be easily visible by humans, but the orbiting Sun-pointing SOHO satellite had a clear view of the celestial daredevil show. The above image was taken on February 18 when the comet was so bright it created an artificial horizontal streak on the camera image. During the encounter, Comet NEAT, official designation (C/2002 V1), brightened to second magnitude. An opaque disk blocked the Sun's image. The now-outbound comet remains bright but will surely fade as it moves away from the Sun. Nevertheless, Comet NEAT will likely be visible with binoculars to southern hemisphere observers for the next month.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 February 10 - Comet NEAT Approaches the Sun
Explanation: A comet may likely become visible to the unaided eye over the next few days above the horizon where the Sun has just set. Comet NEAT (C/ 2002 V1), discovered last November, has brightened dramatically as it approached the Sun. Over the next few days, the quickly setting comet could appear as bright as second magnitude. On February 18 it will round the Sun well within the orbit of Mercury. During surrounding days, the Sun's glare will effectively hide the comet to human observers. It is quite probable, though, that Comet NEAT will standout prominently in images taken by the Sun-looking SOHO satellite. Pictured above, Comet NEAT's complex and developing tail was photographed on January 29 (top) and February 2. Sky enthusiasts should remember to never look directly at the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 30 - Comet Kudo-Fujikawa: Days in the Sun
Explanation: Cruising through the inner Solar System, new Comet Kudo-Fujikawa reached perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, yesterday, January 29. Passing within 28.4 million kilometers of the Sun, this comet came much closer than innermost planet Mercury basking only 57.9 million kilometers from our parent star. So close to the Sun, comet Kudo-Fujikawa was extremely bright but impossible for earthbound observers to see against the solar glare. Still, the space-based SOHO observatory captured these views of the comet as it neared perihelion by using a coronograph's occulting disk to block the overwhelming sunlight. In the series of images, the size and location of the blocked-out Sun is indicated by white circles, while arrows point to the traveling comet's bright coma and developing tail. Though fading on its outbound journey, Kudo-Fujikawa should soon be visible to southern hemisphere comet-watchers in February's evening skies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 23 - Launch of the Sun Pillar
Explanation: On January 16, NASA's space shuttle Columbia roared into blue morning skies above Kennedy Space Center on STS-107, the first shuttle mission of 2003. But this is not a picture of that launch! It was taken on the morning of January 16 though, at sunrise, looking eastward toward Lake Ontario from just outside of Caledon, Ontario, Canada. In the picture a sun pillar, sunlight reflecting from ice crystals gently falling through the cold air, seems to shoot above the fiery Sun still low on the horizon. By chance, fog and clouds forming over the relatively warm lake look like billowing smoke from a rocket's exhaust plume and complete the launch illusion. Amateur photographer Lauri Kangas stopped on his way to work to record the eye-catching sun pillar launch.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 December 30 - A Sun Pillar
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, stop-sign shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture, a sun-pillar reflects light from a setting Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 December 13 - The Crown of the Sun
Explanation: During a total solar eclipse, the Sun's extensive outer atmosphere or corona is an awesome and inspirational sight. Yet the subtle shades and shimmering features of the corona that engage the eye span a brightness range of over 10,000 to 1, making them notoriously difficult to capture in a photograph. Still, this single five second exposure comes very close to revealing the crown of the Sun in all its glory. The color picture was taken with a specially built coronal camera and telescope during the December 4th total eclipse from Messina, South Africa. The camera's design incorporates a precisely made filter whose density, or ability to block light, decreases markedly with distance from the filter center, compensating for the difference between the brighter inner portion of the corona at the Sun's edge and the much fainter outer regions. The central spot in the image corresponds to a calibration window centered on the eclipsed Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 November 10 - A Green Flash from the Sun
Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A dramatic green flash was caught in the above photograph in 1992 from Finland. The Sun itself does not turn partly green, the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 July 29 - A Setting Sun Trail
Explanation: The Sun appears to move on the sky because the Earth rotates. The extreme brightness of the Sun, however, makes it difficult to capture a sun-trail -- the path the Sun traces on the sky. To capture the above picture, a very dark filter covered the camera lens for most of the time, allowing only a trifle of light from the bright Sun to peek through. Just after the Sun had dipped below the horizon but before it was completely dark, the thick filter was removed and the pretty foreground scene was captured. Slight flares appeared when the Sun went behind thin clouds. Star-trails and planet-trails are much easier to image, and a similar Moon trail has also recently been imaged.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 June 24 - The Sun's Heliosphere and Heliopause
Explanation: Where does the Sun's influence end? Nobody is sure. Out past the orbits of Neptune and Pluto extends a region named the heliosphere where the Sun's magnetic field and particles from the Solar Wind continue to dominate. The surface where the Solar Wind drops below sound speed is called the termination shock and is depicted as the inner oval in the above computer-generated illustration. It is thought that this surface occurs as close as 75-90 AU -- so close that a Pioneer or Voyager spacecraft may soon glide through it as they exit the Solar System at about 3 AU/year. The actual contact sheet between the Sun's ions and the Galaxy's ions is called the heliopause and is thought to occur at about 110 AU. It is depicted above as the middle surface. The Sun's heliopause moves through the local interstellar medium much as a boat moves on water, pushing a bow shock out in front, thought to occur near 230 AU.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 21 - S is for Sun
Explanation: Taken yesterday from the SOHO spacecraft, this false-color image shows the active Sun near the March Equinox, the beginning of Autumn in the south and Spring in the northern hemisphere. Recorded in a band of extreme ultraviolet light emitted by highly ionized iron atoms, the Sun's upper atmosphere or solar corona shines with an array of active regions and plasma loops suspended in magnetic fields. The bright coronal structures and loops seen here have temperatures of about 1.5 million kelvins. By chance, the Sun's earth-facing side also seems to be marked with a twisting complex of dark filament channels shaped like a giant "S". Filaments represent relatively (!) cool material in the corona which show up as prominences when seen at the Sun's edge. For planet Earth, recent solar activity has made auroral displays likely around this year's March Equinox.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 14 - Sun Halo at Winter Solstice
Explanation: Sometimes it looks like the Sun is being viewed through a large lens. In the above case, however, there are actually millions of lenses: ice crystals. As water freezes in the upper atmosphere, small, flat, six-sided, ice crystals might be formed. As these crystals flutter to the ground, much time is spent with their faces flat, parallel to the ground. An observer may pass through the same plane as many of the falling ice crystals near sunrise or sunset. During this alignment, each crystal can act like a miniature lens, refracting sunlight into our view and creating phenomena like parhelia, the technical term for sundogs. The above image was taken in the morning of the 2000 Winter Solstice near Ames, Iowa, USA. Visible in the image center is the Sun, while two bright sundogs glow prominently from both the left and the right. Also visible behind neighborhood houses and trees are the 22 degree halo, three sun pillars, and the upper tangent arc, all created by sunlight reflecting off of atmospheric ice crystals.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 June 20 - Total Eclipse of the Active Sun
Explanation: A total eclipse of the Sun is that special geocentric celestial event where the Moon passes exactly in front of the solar disk. During a fleeting few minutes of totality, fortunate earthdwellers located within the path of the Moon's dark shadow can witness the wondrous shimmering solar corona sharing the sky with stars and bright planets. The next total solar eclipse will occur tomorrow, June 21. Since the Sun is still near the maximum of its 11 year activity cycle, careful eclipse-watchers will also likely see the spectacle of bright solar prominences lofted above active regions around the Sun's edge. In fact, a telescopic view could be similar to this stunningly detailed image -- a picture of the solar eclipse of August 1999 taken at the beginning of totality from Kecel, Hungary. The upcoming 2001 June 21 event will be visible as a partial eclipse from some of South America and much of Africa, but will only be total along a 125 mile wide path that tracks across land through Southern Africa and Madagascar. Of course, if you can't travel to Africa tomorrow (and you're not already there), web sites plan to offer live views from the Moon's shadow!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 May 3 - Far Side of the Sun
Explanation: You may think it's impossible to see through the Sun, but maps of the Sun's far side are now made routinely by instruments on board the sun-staring SOHO spacecraft. This is one such map from April 12. At right, is a map projection of calculated magnetic field strengths on the Earth-facing solar hemisphere with yellow and red indicating high magnetic fields characteristic of solar active regions. At left is a similar map of the solar hemisphere opposite planet Earth, which shows the large active region AR9393 as the 27-day solar rotation carried it across the far side. The largest sunspot group in a decade, AR9393 was easily seen as it tracked across the Sun's Earth-facing hemisphere in late March. When AR9393 swung around to the Sun's far side, SOHO's Michelson Doppler Interferometer (MDI) instrument continued to map its position by measuring changes in motions caused by solar sound waves - transmitted through the Sun and influenced by the active region's strong magnetic fields. Known as helioseismology, analyzing solar sound waves is like using seismological records of earthquakes to probe the interior of the Earth. On the Sun, sound waves are produced by turbulent convection cells seen on the surface as dynamic solar granules.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 March 13 - A Sun Pillar
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, stop-sign shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture, a sun-pillar reflects light from a setting Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 March 1 - Maximum Sun
Explanation: Astronomers recently witnessed an astounding, large scale solar event as the Sun's north and south magnetic poles changed places! But, this complete solar magnetic field flip was actually anticipated. It occurs every 11 years during the maximum of the solar activity cycle. Plagues of sun spots, flaring active regions, and huge prominences are also hard-to-miss signs that the solar maximum is here. On February 12, the sungazing SOHO spacecraft captured this dramatic image of a magnificent prominence above the Sun's limb. Seen at the lower right, streams of relatively cool dense plasma were lofted along looping magnetic field lines extending outward about 30 times the diameter of planet Earth. Far above the limb at the upper right, a disconnected ghostly arc surrounds a dark cavity with bright central emission. These features are telltale signs of a coronal mass ejection -- yet another violent expulsion of material from the active Sun. Enormous, intensely bright active regions also mottle the solar surface in this image, recorded in the light of energetic Helium atoms by SOHO's Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 29 - An Airplane in Front of the Sun
Explanation: Sometimes, good planes come to those who wait. Experienced solar photographer Thierry Lagault had noticed planes crossing in front of the Sun from his home in suburban Paris. He then got the idea for the above photograph, but had to wait through many near misses. About two weeks ago, he got his wish: a jet crossed directly in front of the Sun when his solar imaging equipment was set up. The resulting image, shown above, was taken in a specific color of red light called Hydrogen-Alpha, and the picture's contrast has been digitally enhanced. Dark prominences can be seen lacing the Sun's busy surface. The airplane is an MD-11.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 May 7 - A Green Flash from the Sun
Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A slight variant of this was caught in the above photograph, where much of the Sun was still visible, but the very top appeared momentarily green. The Sun itself does not turn partly green, the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 May 5 - Planets In The Sun
Explanation: Today, all five naked-eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) plus the Moon and the Sun will at least approximately line-up. As viewed from planet Earth, they will be clustered within about 26 degrees, the closest alignment for all these celestial bodies since February 1962, when there was a solar eclipse! Such planetary alignments are not dangerous, except of course that the Sun might hurt your eyes when you look at it. So it might be easier to appreciate today's solar system spectacle if you use a space-based coronagraph ... like the LASCO instrument onboard the SOHO observatory. In this recent LASCO image, an occulting disk supported by a structure seen projecting from the lower left blocks out the overwhelming sunlight. It shows three of the planets along with the Sun's location and bright solar wind regions against a background of stars, but Mars and Venus are unfortunately outside LASCO's roughly 15 degree field of view. The horizontal bars through the planets are digital image artifacts. And what about the Moon? The SOHO spacecraft is positioned well beyond lunar orbit where its view of the Sun is never interrupted by the Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 March 18 - A Wind From The Sun
Explanation: A wind from the Sun blows through our Solar System. The behaviour of comet tails as they flapped and waved in this interplanetary breeze gave astronomers the first hint of its existence. Streaming outward at 250-400 miles/second, electrons and ions boiling off the Sun's incredibly hot but tenuous corona account for the Solar Wind - now known to affect the Earth and other planets along with voyaging spacecraft. Rooted in the Solar Magnetic Field, the structure of the corona is visible extending a million miles above the Sun's surface in this composite image from the EIT and UVCS instruments onboard the SOHO spacecraft. The dark areas, known as coronal holes, represent the regions where the highest speed Solar Wind originates.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 10 - Brown Sun Bubbling
Explanation: Our Sun may look like all soft and fluffy, but its not. Our Sun is an extremely large ball of bubbling hot gas, mostly hydrogen gas. The above picture was taken in a specific color of light emitted by hydrogen gas called Hydrogen-alpha. Granules cover the solar photosphere surface like shag carpet, interrupted by bright regions containing dark sunspots. Visible at the left edge is a solar prominence. Our Sun glows because it is hot, but it is not on fire. Fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and there is very little oxygen on the Sun. The energy source of our Sun is the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium deep within its core. Astronomers are still working to understand, however, why so few neutrinos are measured from the Sun's core.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 19, 1999 - Mercury And The Sun
Explanation: Just days before the peak of the Leonid meteor shower, skywatchers were offered another astronomical treat as planet Mercury crossed the face of the Sun on November 15. Viewed from planet Earth, a transit of Mercury is not all that rare. The last occurred in 1993 and the next will happen in 2003. Enjoying a mercurial transit does require an appropriately filtered telescope, still the event can be dramatic as the diminutive well-done world drifts past the dominating solar disk. This slow loading gif animation is based on images recorded by the earth-orbiting TRACE satellite. The false-color TRACE images were made in ultraviolet light and tend to show the hot gas just above the Sun's visible surface. Mercury's disk is silhouetted against the seething plasma as it follows a trajectory near the edge of the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 18, 1999 - Sun Block
Explanation: During a total solar eclipse, Earth's moon blocks the sun - almost exactly. While the sun is about 400 times wider than the moon, it is also about 400 times farther away and each appears to be half a degree or so in diameter. On August 11, this remarkable coincidence in the apparent size of two vastly different celestial bodies produced tantalizing solar spectacles for denizens of Europe and Asia. For example, prominences along the sun's limb peer around the moon's dark edge in this dramatic picture of totality recorded as the lunar shadow swept across Hungary. Subtle structures in the sun's inner corona are also visible streaming beyond the silhouetted moon. This total eclipse of the sun was the last to grace planet Earth's skies for this millennium. Although four partial eclipses will occur in the year 2000, the next total eclipse will not be until 2001 June 21.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 6, 1999 - A Sun Pillar
Explanation: Have you ever seen a sun pillar? When the air is cold and the Sun is rising or setting, falling ice crystals can reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light. Ice sometimes forms flat, stop-sign shaped crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. Sunlight reflects off crystals that are properly aligned, creating the sun-pillar effect. In the above picture, the sun-pillar can be traced up to the cloud that is raining the reflecting ice-crystals.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 15, 1999 - The Sun Oscillates
Explanation: Our Sun is in a continual state of oscillation. Large patches of the Sun vibrate in and out, back and forth, even as the Sun rotates. One mode of Solar oscillation is depicted graphically above, with blue indicating outward motion, and red indicating inward motion. Although sensitive optical solar observatories can only directly detect surface motions, they give information about vibrations occurring much deeper in the Sun. In helioseismology, these oscillations are being analyzed and are revealing unprecedented information about the density, temperature, motion, and chemical composition of the entire Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 11, 1999 - Perihelion Sun
Explanation: The Earth's orbit is not a perfect, sun-centered circle. At aphelion, the most distant point in Earth's orbit, the Sun is 150 million kilometers away and at perihelion, the closest point, Earth approaches the Sun to within about 147 million kilometers. While aphelion occurs in July, perihelion for planet Earth comes in January. In fact, inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly those wearily weathering winter storms, may be surprised to learn that Earth reached its closest point to the Sun on January 3rd this year. This false-color picture recorded near perihelion is from the earth-orbiting Yohkoh Solar Observatory. It shows an increasingly active Sun in the light of X-rays. A negative color scheme is used, darker colors representing more intense X-ray light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 21, 1998 - Solstice Sun In Soft X-rays
Explanation: The solstice occurs today at 8:56 PM Eastern Standard Time. At the solstice the sun reaches its most southerly position in the sky and winter begins for the Northern Hemisphere while summer starts South of the Equator. This false-color image of the sun was made about 48 hours before the solstice in the light of soft (lower energy) X-rays by a telescope on board the space-based Yohkho solar observatory. The normally bright, visible solar surface or photosphere appears dark in X-ray light while active regions in the solar corona which lie above the photosphere are particularly X-ray bright. Solar photospheric temperatures are about 6,000 degrees C. but the X-ray bright coronal regions have temperatures of millions of degrees. Why is the sun's corona so hot?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 12, 1998 - Driving To The Sun
Explanation: How long would it take to drive to the Sun? Brittany, age 7, and D.J., age 12, ponder this question over dinner one evening. James, also age 7, suggests taking a really fast racing car while Christopher, age 4, eagerly agrees. Jerry, a really old guy who is used to estimating driving time on family trips based on distance divided by speed, offers to do the numbers. "Let's see ... the Sun is 93 million miles away. So, if we drove 93 miles per hour the trip would only take us 1 million hours." How long is 1 million hours? One year is 365 days times 24 hours per day, or 8,760 hours. One hundred years would be 876,000 hours, still a little short of the 1 million hour drive time -- so the Sun is really quite far away. Christopher is not impressed, but as he grows older he will be. You've got to be impressed by something that's 93 million miles away and still hurts your eyes when you look at it!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 23, 1998 - Autumn and the Active Sun
Explanation: As the Sun heads South, crossing the celestial equator today at 1:37 a.m. Eastern Time, Autumn begins for Earth's Northern Hemisphere. This Autumnal Equinox finds an increasingly active Sun steadily approaching a solar cycle maximum expected around the year 2003. The solar activity cycle is driven by a periodic winding up of the Sun's internal magnetic field. This colorized picture is a mosaic of recent ultraviolet images from the orbiting TRACE satellite sensitive to light emitted by highly charged iron atoms. Growing in number, the intricate structures visible are the Sun's hot active regions with temperatures over a million degrees Fahrenheit and their associated magnetic loops.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 30, 1998 - The Sun Erupts
Explanation: The Sun is a seething ball of extremely hot gas. Above, the Sun was captured by Skylab in 1973 throwing off one the largest eruptive prominences in recorded history. The Sun has survived for about 5 billion years, and will likely survive for another 5 billion. The Sun is not on fire, will never explode, and a solar flare will never destroy the Earth. The Sun continues to present many unanswered questions. For example: Why is the Sun's corona so hot? What causes the Sun's unusual magnetic field? Why does the Sun's center emit so few neutrinos?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 24, 1998 - An Annular Eclipse of the Sun
Explanation: An annular eclipse of the Sun was visible in parts of the Eastern Hemisphere on Saturday. The above picture was taken at that time by a video camera in Mersing on the East Coast of Malaysia and emailed to APOD yesterday from an internet cafe in Kuala Lumpur. An annular solar eclipse will occur when the Moon's angular size is slightly less than the Sun's angular size. Therefore, when the Moon is directly in front of the Sun, the edges of the Sun are still visible. This solar ring is so bright that the Moon's surface normally appears dark by comparison. The angular sizes of the Sun and Moon change slightly because of the elliptical nature of the Moon's and Earth's orbit. A total solar eclipse would have occurred were the Moon much closer to the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 16, 1998 - An Active Region of the Sun
Explanation: The Sun is a busy place. This false-color image depicts an active region near an edge of the Sun. Hot plasma is seen exploding off the Sun's photosphere and traveling along loops defined by the Sun's magnetic field. The red regions are particularly hot, indicating that some magnetic field loops carry hotter gas than others. These active loops were so large that the Earth could easily fit under one. The TRACE satellite was launched in April with plans to continue high-resolution imaging as the Sun passes Solar Maximum in the next few years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 1, 1998 - Solar Flares Cause Sun Quakes
Explanation: An 11th magnitude quake has been recorded on the Sun, immediately following a moderate solar flare. The quake was the first ever recorded on the Sun, but only because astronomers have only recently figured out when and how to find them using the orbiting SOHO spacecraft. Dark waves from the quake can be seen in the above picture spreading out from an explosive bright flare. The solar ripples are similar in appearance to waves caused by a rock thrown into a pond. The magnitude and evolution of these quakes gives information about the physical nature of solar flares, the surface of the Sun, and even the Sun's interior.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 26, 1998 - A Seemingly Square Sun
Explanation: Isn't the Sun round? Yes, but in the above picture, the Earth's atmosphere makes it appear almost square. Here a layer of air near the Earth was so warm it acted like a giant lens, creating increasingly distorted paths for sunlight to reach the camera. Similarly, on a long flat highway, it may appear that the road in the distance is covered with water. In this case, light from the blue sky is being unusually refracted by warm air just above the dry road. No matter how the Earth's atmosphere makes the Sun appear, the Sun will always be spherical. This setting Sun was photographed over Lake Michigan in Muskegon, MI.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 15, 1998 - TRACE and the Active Sun
Explanation: This dramatic high resolution picture looking across the edge of the Sun was taken April 24th by a telescope on board the newly launched Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) satellite. It shows graceful arcs of intensely hot gas suspended in powerful looping magnetic fields which soar above a solar active region. The colorized image was made in the extreme ultraviolet light radiated by highly ionized Iron atoms. With a temperature of a mere 6,000 degrees Celsius, the sun's surface is relatively cool and dark at these wavelengths, but the million degree hot plasma loops glow strongly! Such TRACE images follow the plasma and magnetic structures arising from the surface of the sun as they merge with the tenuous, hot solar Corona or outer atmosphere. By operating the TRACE instruments during the Sun's increasingly active phase, scientists hope to explore the connections between complex solar magnetic fields and potentially hazardous solar eruptions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 13, 1998 - The Sun Changes
Explanation: Our Sun changes every day. This recent picture was taken in a very specific red color called Hydrogen-Alpha. Dark spots that might appear on the image are usually sunspots, dark magnetic depressions that are slightly cooler than the rest of the Sun's surface. Bright spots that might appear are usually plages, active regions that are slightly hotter than the rest of the Sun's surface. Over the next few years the average number of sunspots and plages will increase until "Solar Maximum" occurs in 2001. The Sun usually goes through a maximum and minimum every 11 years. From 1645 to 1715, however, almost no sunspots at all were recorded, for reasons unknown. (An updated picture can be found here.)

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 11, 1998 - A Total Eclipse of the Sun
Explanation: On February 26th, it was dark during the day. This total solar eclipse was the last visible from the Americas for this millennium. A total solar eclipse is exciting partly because it is so short. Were Earth's Moon farther away, no total eclipse would occur at all because the Moon would appear too small to block out all of the Sun. Were the Moon much closer to the Earth, the eclipse would last much longer. Oddly, the Sun and Moon have almost exactly the same angular size. Even for well located observers, this creates at most only a very few minutes of totality before the Moon's shadow moves away. During a total solar eclipse in 1919, these few minutes were long enough for scientists to determine that the Sun's gravity bends light from the stars behind it, dramatically confirming the accuracy of a new theory of gravity postulated over 80 years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 9, 1997 - A Green Flash from the Sun
Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A slight variant of this was caught in the above photograph, where much of the Sun was still visible, but the very top appeared momentarily green. The Sun itself does not turn partly green, the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 4, 1997 - Rivers in the Sun
Explanation: The surface of the Sun is shifting. By watching sunspots, it has long been known that our Sun rotates. It was also known that the center of the Sun rotates faster than the poles. Now, recent measurements by the Solar Oscillations Investigations group of the SOHO Observatory have found that the surface of the sun moves in other ways, too. Hot, electrically charged gas flows along and beneath the Sun's surface as depicted in the above computer generated diagram. The speed of these solar rivers is false-color coded with red hydrogen moving faster than blue. Over the course of a year plasma moves from the equator to the poles, while internal eddies circulate gas from deep inside the Sun. One surprise is the similarity to the motion of air in the Earth's atmosphere - indicating that scientists might learn more about Earth's global weather by studying the Sun.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 6, 1997 - Blue Sun Glaring
Explanation: The Sun is a bubbling ball of extremely hot gas. In this false-color picture, light blue regions are extremely hot - over 1 million degrees, while dark blue regions are slightly cooler. The camera filter used was highly sensitive to the emission of highly charged iron ions, which trace the magnetic field of the Sun. The rich structure of the image shows the great complexity of the Sun's inner corona. A small active region can be seen just to the right and above center. This picture was taken in ultraviolet (extremely blue) light by the Extreme-ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) on board the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft, which is orbiting the Sun just ahead of the Earth, at the L1 point. SOHO was launched in 1995 and will continually monitor the Sun for several years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 16, 1996 - The Sun Erupts
Explanation: The Sun is a seething ball of extremely hot gas. Above, the Sun was captured by Skylab in 1973 throwing off one the largest eruptive prominences in recorded history. The Sun has survived for about 5 billion years, and will likely survive for another 5 billion. The Sun is not on fire, will never explode, and a solar flare will never destroy the Earth. The Sun continues to present many unanswered questions. For example: Why is the Sun's corona so hot? What causes the Sun's unusual magnetic field? Why does the Sun's center emit so few neutrinos?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 18, 1996 - The Sun Today
Explanation: Our Sun shows a different face every day. The above picture was taken on May 15, but a similar picture of the Sun actually taken today can be found here. The above picture was taken in red light and so is shown in red. The bright spots to the right of center are active regions known as plages. Currently, the Sun is showing very few active regions or sunspots, and is considered to be in a solar minimum. Solar activity will pick up over the next six years until a "solar maximum" is reached. The Sun goes through this cycle of maxima and minima every 11 years. Sol, our Sun, is hundreds of times more massive than all the planets in the Solar System combined. However, the Sun itself contains only a small amount of the total angular momentum of the Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 16, 1996 - Comet Hyakutake Passes the Sun
Explanation: On May 1, Comet Hyakutake made its closest approach to the Sun. During this time it was not possible to view the comet with most astronomical instruments because of the brightness of the nearby Sun. But the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft contains telescopes meant to look directly at the Sun and so were able to track the comet during this crucial time. This picture, taken May 2, shows the tails of Comet Hyakutake pointing away from the Sun, as expected. During its closest approach, Comet Hyakutake passed inside the orbit of Mercury. Comet Hyakutake will not return to the inner Solar System for another 14,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 4, 1995 - The Sun Spews X-rays
Explanation: Our Sun is really very hot. The Sun's outer atmosphere is so hot that it emits much light in the X-ray band, which was unexpected. X-rays are usually emitted from objects having a temperature in the millions of degrees, not the mere thousands of degrees of the Sun's surface. The above X-ray picture shows the Sun one particularly active day in August of 1992. Evident are hot spots on the solar surface, showing that areas above the Sun's surface really do reach millions of degrees. But possibly more puzzling is the broader X-ray glow visible surrounding the Sun. This glow is now attributed to the Sun's X-ray corona, the origin of which is currently a subject of much discussion and debate. The Sun is one of the most photographed objects, with frequently updated pictures available over the WWW. In fact, an X-ray picture from Yohkoh taken earlier today is usually available over the WWW. Compare it to the above picture!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 13, 1995 - The Sun Erupts
Explanation: The sun was captured in 1973 throwing one of the largest eruptive prominences ever recorded. Sol, our sun, is a normal star. It formed about 5 billion years ago, and will last about another 5 billion years. The sun will never explode, and a solar flare will never destroy the earth. Eventually the sun will become a white dwarf star. The sun is made of mostly hydrogen and helium. The sun's center is so hot that when hydrogen nuclei collide, they stick together and release energy - a process called nuclear fusion No one knows why the center of the sun emits so few neutrinos.


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