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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Search Results for "Uranus"




Found 92 items.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 December 29 - Shakespeare in Space
Explanation: In 1986, Voyager 2 became the only spacecraft to explore ice giant planet Uranus close up. Still, this newly released image from the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) on the James Webb Space Telescope offers a detailed look at the distant world. The tilted outer planet rotates on its axis once in about 17 hours. Its north pole is presently pointed near our line of sight, offering direct views of its northern hemisphere and a faint but extensive system of rings. Of the giant planet's 27 known moons, 14 are annotated in the image. Mixed with fuzzy background galaxies, the brighter moons show hints of Webb's characteristic diffraction spikes. And though these worlds of the outer Solar System were unknown in Shakespearean times, all but two of the 27 Uranian moons are named for characters in the English bard's plays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 25 – Lightning on Jupiter
Explanation: Does lightning occur only on Earth? No. Spacecraft in our Solar System have detected lightning on other planets, including Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and lightning is likely on Venus, Uranus, and Neptune. Lightning is a sudden rush of electrically charged particles from one location to another. On Earth, drafts of colliding ice and water droplets usually create lightning-generating charge separation, but what happens on Jupiter? Images and data from NASA's Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft bolster previous speculation that Jovian lightning is also created in clouds containing water and ice. In the featured Juno photograph, an optical flash was captured in a large cloud vortex near Jupiter's north pole. During the next few months, Juno will perform several close sweeps over Jupiter's night side, likely allowing the robotic probe to capture more data and images of Jovian lightning.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 March 26 – Wanderers
Explanation: How far out will humanity explore? If this video's fusion of real space imagery and fictional space visualizations is on the right track, then at least the Solar System. Some of the video's wondrous sequences depict future humans drifting through the rings of Saturn, exploring Jupiter from a nearby spacecraft, and jumping off a high cliff in the low gravity of a moon of Uranus. Although no one can know the future, wandering and exploring beyond boundaries -- both physical and intellectual -- is part of the human spirit and has frequently served humanity well in the past.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 January 2 – After Sunset Planet Parade
Explanation: Look up tonight and see a whole bunch of planets. Just after sunset, looking west, planets Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars will all be simultaneously visible. Listed west to east, this planetary lineup will have Venus nearest the horizon, but setting shortly after the Sun. It doesn't matter where on Earth you live because this early evening planet parade will be visible through clear skies all around the globe. Taken late last month, the featured image captured all of these planets and more: the Moon and planet Mercury were also simultaneously visible. Below visibility were the planets Neptune and Uranus, making this a nearly all-planet panorama. In the foreground are hills around the small village of Gökçeören, Kaş, Turkey, near the Mediterranean coast. Bright stars Altair, Fomalhaut, and Aldebaran are also prominent, as well as the Pleiades star cluster. Venus will rise higher in the sky at sunset as January continues, but Saturn will descend.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 November 11 - Blood Moon, Ice Giant
Explanation: On November 8 the Full Moon turned blood red as it slid through Earth's shadow in a beautiful total lunar eclipse. During totality it also passed in front of, or occulted, outer planet Uranus for eclipse viewers located in parts of northern America and Asia. For a close-up and wider view these two images were taken just before the occultation began, captured with different telescopes and cameras from the same roof top in Shanghai, China. Normally very faint compared to a Full Moon, the tiny, pale, greenish disk of the distant ice giant is just to the left of the Moon's edge and about to disappear behind the darkened, red lunar limb. Though only visible from certain locations across planet Earth, lunar occultations of planets are fairly common. But for this rare "lunar eclipse occultation" to take place, at the time of the total eclipse the outer planet had to be both at opposition and very near the ecliptic plane to fall in line with Sun, Earth, and Moon.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 June 30 - Comet C 2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)
Explanation: Imaged on June 20 2022, comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) shares this wide telescopic field of view with open star cluster IC 4665 and bright star Beta Ophiuchi, near a starry edge of the Milky Way. On its maiden voyage to the inner Solar System from the dim and distant Oort cloud, this comet PanSTARRS was initially spotted over five years ago, in May 2017. Then it was the most distant active inbound comet ever found, discovered when it was some 2.4 billion kilometers from the Sun. That put it between the orbital distances of Uranus and Saturn. Hubble Space Telescope observations indicated the comet had a large nucleus less than 18 kilometers in diameter. Now visible in small telescopes C/2017 K2 will make its closest approach to planet Earth on July 14 and closest approach to the Sun this December. Its extended coma and developing tail are seen here at a distance of some 290 million kilometers, a mere 16 light-minutes away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 June 29 - Solar System Family Portrait
Explanation: Yes, but have you ever seen all of the planets at once? A rare roll-call of planets has been occurring in the morning sky for much of June. The featured fisheye all-sky image, taken a few mornings ago near the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, caught not only the entire planet parade, but the Moon between Mars and Venus. In order, left to right along the ecliptic plane, members of this Solar System family portrait are Earth, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Mars, Uranus, Venus, Mercury, and Earth. To emphasize their locations, Neptune and Uranus have been artificially enhanced. The volcano just below Mercury is Licancabur. In July, Mercury will move into the Sun's glare but reappear a few days later on the evening side. Then, in August, Saturn will drift past the direction opposite the Sun and so become visible at dusk instead of dawn. The next time that all eight planets will be simultaneously visible in the evening sky will be in 2122.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 June 25 - Planets of the Solar System
Explanation: Simultaneous images from four cameras were combined to construct this atmospheric predawn skyscape. The cooperative astro-panorama captures all the planets of the Solar System, just before sunrise on June 24. That foggy morning found innermost planet Mercury close to the horizon but just visible against the twilight, below and left of brilliant Venus. Along with the waning crescent Moon, the other bright naked-eye planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lie near the ecliptic, arcing up and to the right across the wide field of view. Binoculars would have been required to spot the much fainter planets Uranus and Neptune, though they also were along the ecliptic in the sky. In the foreground are excavations at an ancient Roman villa near Marina di San Nicola, Italy, planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 December 19 - Planetary Alignment over Italy
Explanation: It is not a coincidence that planets line up. That's because all of the planets orbit the Sun in (nearly) a single sheet called the plane of the ecliptic. When viewed from inside that plane -- as Earth dwellers are likely to do -- the planets all appear confined to a single band. It is a coincidence, though, when three of the brightest planets all appear in nearly the same direction. Such a coincidence was captured earlier this month. Featured above (right to left), Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter were all imaged together in a line just after sunset, from the San Fermo Hills, Bergamo, Italy. Joining the alignment are Earth's Moon, and the position of the more distant Uranus. Bands of clouds streak across the sky toward the setting Sun. As Comet Leonard fades, this planetary alignment -- absent the Moon -- should persist for the rest of the month.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 30 - In Motion: Uranus and Moons
Explanation: What's that moving across the sky? A planet just a bit too faint to see with the unaided eye: Uranus. The gas giant out past Saturn was tracked earlier this month near opposition -- when it was closest to Earth and at its brightest. The featured video captured by the Bayfordbury Observatory in Hertfordshire, UK is a four-hour time-lapse showing Uranus with its four largest moons in tow: Titania, Oberon, Umbriel and Ariel. Uranus' apparent motion past background stars is really dominated by Earth's own orbital motion around our Sun. The cross seen centered on Uranus is called a diffraction spike and is caused by light diffracting around the four arms that hold one of the telescope's mirrors in place. The rotation of the diffraction spikes is not caused by the rotation of Uranus but, essentially, by the rotation of the Earth. During the next few months Uranus itself will be visible with binoculars, but, as always, to see its moons will require a telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 August 25 - Solar System Ball Drop
Explanation: Does a ball drop faster on Earth, Jupiter, or Uranus? The featured animation shows a ball dropping from one kilometer high toward the surfaces of famous solar system bodies, assuming no air resistance. The force of gravity depends on the mass of the attracting object, with higher masses pulling down with greater forces. But gravitational force also depends on distance from the center of gravity, with shorter distances causing the ball to drop faster. Combining both mass and distance, it might be surprising to see that Uranus pulls the ball down slightly slower than Earth, despite containing over 14 times more mass. This happens because Uranus has a much lower density, which puts its cloud tops further away from its center of mass. Although the falling ball always speeds up, if you were on the ball you would not feel this acceleration because you would be in free-fall. Of the three planets mentioned, the video demonstrates a ball drops even faster on Jupiter than either Earth and Uranus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 July 25 - Crescent Neptune and Triton
Explanation: Gliding silently through the outer Solar System, the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera captured Neptune and Triton together in crescent phase. The elegant picture of the ice-giant planet and its cloudy moon was taken from behind just after closest approach in 1989. It could not have been taken from Earth because Neptune never shows a crescent phase to sunward Earth. The unusual vantage point also robs Neptune of its familiar blue hue, as sunlight seen from here is scattered forward, and so is reddened like the setting Sun. Neptune is smaller but more massive than Uranus, has several dark rings, and emits more light than it receives from the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 November 29 - Verona Rupes: Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System
Explanation: Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus' moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep -- ten times the depth of the Earth's Grand Canyon. Given Miranda's low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar -- about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The featured image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 May 19 - Posters of the Solar System
Explanation: Would you like a NASA astronomy-exploration poster? You are just one page-print away. Any of the panels you see on the featured image can appear on your wall. Moreover, this NASA page has, typically, several more posters of each of the Solar System objects depicted. These posters highlight many of the places humanity, through NASA, has explored in the past 50 years, including our Sun, and planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Moons of Jupiter that have been posterized include Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and Io, while moons of Saturn that can be framed include Enceladus and Titan. Images of Pluto, Ceres, comets and asteroids are also presented, while six deep space scenes -- well beyond our Solar System -- can also be prominently displayed. If you lack wall space or blank poster sheets don't despair -- you can still print many of these out as trading cards.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 14 - Solar System Family Portrait
Explanation: On Valentine's Day in 1990, cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back one last time to make this first ever Solar System family portrait. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. In it, Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System at the left, linking up with gas giant Neptune, the Solar System's outermost planet, at the far right. Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by letters, while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Closer to the Sun than Neptune at the time, small, faint Pluto's position was not covered.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 July 28 - One Night, One Telescope, One Camera
Explanation: Taken on the same night, from the same place, with the same telescope and camera, these postcards from our Solar System are shown at the same scale to provide an interesting comparison of apparent sizes. Spanning about half a degree in planet Earth's sky, the Moon is a stitched mosaic of six images. The others are the result of digitally stacked frames or simple single exposures, with the real distances to the objects indicated along the bottom of each insert. Most of the Solar System's planets with their brighter moons, and Pluto were captured during the telescopic expedition, but elusive Mercury was missed because of clouds near the horizon. The International Space Station was successfully hunted, though. The night was July 21st. Telescope and camera were located at the Centro Astronomico de Tiedra Observatory in Spain.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 April 29 - Wanderers
Explanation: How far out will humanity explore? If this video's fusion of real space imagery and fictional space visualizations is on the right track, then at least the Solar System. Some of the video's wondrous sequences depict future humans drifting through the rings of Saturn, exploring Jupiter from a nearby spacecraft, and jumping off a high cliff in the low gravity of a moon of Uranus. Although no one can know the future, wandering and exploring beyond boundaries -- both physical and intellectual -- is part of the human spirit and has frequently served humanity well in the past.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 25 - All Planets Panorama
Explanation: For 360 degrees, a view along the plane of the ecliptic is captured in this remarkable panorama, with seven planets in a starry sky. The mosaic was constructed using images taken during January 24-26, from Nacpan Beach, El Nido in Palawan, Philippines. It covers the eastern horizon (left) in dark early morning hours and the western horizon in evening skies. While the ecliptic runs along the middle traced by a faint band of zodiacal light, the Milky Way also cuts at angles through the frame. Clouds and the Moon join fleeting planet Mercury in the east. Yellowish Saturn, bright star Antares, and Jupiter lie near the ecliptic farther right. Hugging the ecliptic near center are Leo's alpha star Regulus and star cluster M44. The evening planets gathered along the ecliptic above the western horizon, are faint Uranus, ruddy Mars, brilliant Venus, and even fainter Neptune. A well labeled version of the panorama can be viewed by sliding your cursor over the picture, or just following this link.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 11 - Solar System Portrait
Explanation: On Valentine's Day in 1990, cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back one last time to make this first ever Solar System family portrait. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. In it, Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System at the left, linking up with gas giant Neptune, the Solar System's outermost planet, at the far right. Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by letters, while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Closer to the Sun than Neptune at the time, small, faint Pluto's position was not covered.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 November 27 - Verona Rupes: Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System
Explanation: Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus' moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep -- ten times the depth of the Earth's Grand Canyon. Given Miranda's low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar -- about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The featured image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 June 22 - Cirrus over Paris
Explanation: What's that over Paris? Cirrus. Typically, cirrus clouds appear white or gray when reflecting sunlight, can appear dark at sunset (or sunrise) against a better lit sky. Cirrus are among the highest types of clouds and are usually thin enough to see stars through. Cirrus clouds may form from moisture released above storm clouds and so may herald the arrival of a significant change in weather. Conversely, cirrus clouds have also been seen on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Uranus, and Neptune. The featured image was taken two days ago from a window in District 15, Paris, France, Earth. The brightly lit object on the lower right is, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 22 - New Horizons
Explanation: In three weeks, the robotic New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto. As the featured video makes clear, though, humanity has been on an unprecedented epoch of robotic exploration of our Solar System's planets for the past half century. The video highlights artistic illustrations of Mariner 2 flying by Venus in 1962, Mariner 4 flying past Mars in 1965, Pioneer 10 flying past Jupiter in 1973, Mariner 10 flying past Mercury in 1974, Pioneer 11 flying past Saturn in 1979, and Voyager 2 flying past Uranus in 1986 and then Neptune in 1989. Next is a hypothetical sequence depicting New Horizons flying past Pluto next month. Assuming things work as planned, dwarf planet Pluto will then become the farthest world yet explored by humans. Of course, these Pluto illustrations are only a guess. How Pluto and its moons will really look may be a mixture of familiar things, such as craters, and unfamiliar things, such as

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 15 - Two Hours Before Neptune
Explanation: Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the cloud tops of Uranus and Neptune. Twenty-six years later, NASA's New Horizons is poised to be the first spacecraft to zoom past Pluto this July.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 14 - Solar System Portrait
Explanation: On another Valentine's Day 25 years ago, cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back one last time to make this first ever Solar System family portrait. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. In it, Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System at the left, linking up with gas giant Neptune, the Solar System's outermost planet, at the far right. Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by letters, while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Closer to the Sun than Neptune at the time, small, faint Pluto's position was not covered.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 December 8 - Wanderers
Explanation: How far out will humanity explore? If this video's fusion of real space imagery and fictional space visualizations is on the right track, then at least the Solar System. Some of the video's wondrous sequences depict future humans drifting through the rings of Saturn, exploring Jupiter from a nearby spacecraft, and jumping off a high cliff in the low gravity of a moon of Uranus. Although no one can know the future, wandering and exploring beyond boundaries -- both physical and intellectual -- is part of the human spirit and has frequently served humanity well in the past.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 10 - Moons at Opposition
Explanation: From the early hours of October 8, over the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos, California, the totally eclipsed Moon shows a range of color across this well-exposed telescopic view of the lunar eclipse. Of course, a lunar eclipse can only occur when the Moon is opposite the Sun in Earth's sky and gliding through the planet's shadow. But also near opposition during this eclipse, and remarkably only half a degree or so from the lunar limb, distant Uranus is faint but easy to spot at the lower right. Fainter still are the ice giant's moons. To find them, slide your cursor over the image (or just follow this link) to check out a longer exposure. While even the darkened surface of our eclipsed Moon will be strongly overexposed, Uranus moons Titania, Oberon, and Umbriel can just be distinguished as faint pinpricks of light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 9 - Two Rings for Asteroid Chariklo
Explanation: Asteroids can have rings. In a surprising discovery announced two weeks ago, the distant asteroid 10199 Chariklo was found to have at least two orbiting rings. Chariklo's diameter of about 250 kilometers makes it the largest of the measured centaur asteroids, but now the smallest known object to have rings. The centaur-class minor planet orbits the Sun between Saturn and Uranus. The above video gives an artist's illustration of how the rings were discovered. As Chariklo passed in 2013 in front of a faint star, unexpected but symmetric dips in the brightness of the star revealed the rings. Planetary astronomers are now running computer simulations designed to investigate how Chariklo's unexpected ring system might have formed, how it survives, and given the asteroid's low mass and close passes of other small asteroids and the planet Uranus, how long it may last.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 April 14 - Crescent Neptune and Triton
Explanation: Gliding silently through the outer Solar System, the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera captured Neptune and Triton together in crescent phase in 1989. The elegant picture of the gas giant planet and its cloudy moon was taken from behind just after closest approach. It could not have been taken from Earth because Neptune never shows a crescent phase to sunward Earth. The unusual vantage point also robs Neptune of its familiar blue hue, as sunlight seen from here is scattered forward, and so is reddened like the setting Sun. Neptune is smaller but more massive than Uranus, has several dark rings, and emits more light than it receives from the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 February 14 - Solar System Portrait
Explanation: On another Valentine's Day (February 14, 1990), cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back to make this first ever family portrait of our Solar System. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. In it, Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System at the left, linking up with gas giant Neptune, at the time the Solar System's outermost planet, at the far right. Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by letters, while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Small, faint Pluto's position was not covered.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 23 - Jupiter's Clouds from New Horizons
Explanation: The New Horizons spacecraft took some stunning images of Jupiter on its way out to Pluto. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible through even modest sized telescopes. The above image, horizontally compressed, was taken in 2007 near Jupiter's terminator and shows the Jovian giant's wide diversity of cloud patterns. On the far left are clouds closest to Jupiter's South Pole. Here turbulent whirlpools and swirls are seen in a dark region, dubbed a belt, that rings the planet. Even light colored regions, called zones, show tremendous structure, complete with complex wave patterns. The energy that drives these waves surely comes from below. New Horizons is the fastest space probe ever launched, has now passed the orbits of Saturn and Uranus and is on track to reach Pluto in 2015.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 August 27 - Hurricane Irene Forms
Explanation: How does a hurricane form? Although a complete picture is still being researched, insight into this process might be gleaned by watching the above time lapse movie of the formation of Hurricane Irene, a large storm system currently threatening the eastern seaboard of the USA. Starting as a slight pressure difference visible as nondescript clouds on the lower right, Hurricane Irene is shown growing into large spiraling storm system of low pressure off the coast of South Carolina. A hurricane is powered by evaporating ocean water, and so typically gains strength over warm water and loses strength over land. Besides Earth, other planets that have hurricane-like storm systems include Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. Much remains unknown about hurricanes and cyclones, including the exact path they will take.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 July 3 - Alpha Centauri: The Closest Star System
Explanation: The closest star system to the Sun is the Alpha Centauri system. Of the three stars in the system, the dimmest -- called Proxima Centauri -- is actually the nearest star. The bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B form a close binary as they are separated by only 23 times the Earth- Sun distance - slightly greater than the distance between Uranus and the Sun. In the above picture, the brightness of the stars overwhelm the photograph causing an illusion of great size, even though the stars are really just small points of light. The Alpha Centauri system is not visible in much of the northern hemisphere. Alpha Centauri A, also known as Rigil Kentaurus, is the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus and is the fourth brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest even thought it is more than twice as far away. By an exciting coincidence, Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun, causing many to speculate that it might contain planets that harbor life.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 April 4 - Verona Rupes: Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System
Explanation: Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus' moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep -- ten times the depth of the Earth's Grand Canyon. Given Miranda's low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar -- about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The above image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 February 23 - The Solar System from MESSENGER
Explanation: If you looked out from the center of the Solar System, what would you see? Nearly such a view was taken recently from the MESSENGER spacecraft currently orbiting the Sun from the distance of Mercury. The Sun's planets all appear as points of light, with the closest and largest planets appearing the brightest. The planets all appear to orbit in the same direction and are (nearly) confined to the same great circle around the sky -- the ecliptic plane. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all visible in the above horizontally compressed image, while the positions of Uranus and Neptune are labeled even though they are too faint to make out. Pluto, which has had its planetary status recently called into question, is much too faint to see. Earth's Moon is visible, however, as are the Galilean moons of Jupiter. The above image is the reverse of one taken from the outside of the Solar System in 1990 by Voyager 1. MESSENGER, which has flown by Mercury three times now, is on schedule to enter orbit around the Solar System's innermost planet next month.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 18 - Opposite the Sun
Explanation: Chances are the brightest star you've seen lately is actually planet Jupiter. Jupiter rules the sky in this labeled view of a starry September night from the Alborz mountains in Iran, complete with the trail of a red flashlight illuminating the mountain road. On September 21st (Universal Time) Jupiter will be at opposition, the point opposite the Sun along its orbit, rising just as the Sun sets. For this opposition, Jupiter will be slightly brighter and closer to planet Earth than in any year since 1963. Much fainter and also approaching its own opposition on September 21st, is the distant planet Uranus. Very near Jupiter on the sky, the fainter planet is easy to spot in binoculars (similar to the inset view), well above and right of brilliant Jupiter and about as bright as one of Jupiter's own Galilean moons. Remarkably close to the opposition of both planets, the point on the sky exactly opposite the Sun on September 23rd is marked the Vernal Equinox. On that date, a Full Moon will join the celestial scene. Of course, any Full Moon is also at opposition.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 August 8 - Two Hours Before Neptune
Explanation: Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the cloud tops of Uranus and Neptune.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 13 - Crescent Neptune and Triton
Explanation: Gliding silently through the outer Solar System, the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera captured Neptune and Triton together in crescent phase in 1989. The above picture of the gas giant planet and its cloudy moon was taken from behind just after closest approach. It could not have been taken from Earth because Neptune never shows a crescent phase to sunward Earth. The unusual vantage point also robs Neptune of its familiar blue hue, as sunlight seen from here is scattered forward, and so is reddened like the setting Sun. Neptune is smaller but more massive than Uranus, has several dark rings, and emits more light than it receives from the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 July 23 - Verona Rupes: Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System
Explanation: Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus' moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep -- ten times the depth of the Earth's Grand Canyon. Given Miranda's low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar -- about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The above image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 July 1 - Steep Cliffs on Mars
Explanation: Vertical cliffs of nearly two kilometers occur near the North Pole of Mars. Also visible in the above image of the Martian North Polar Cap are red areas of rock and sand, white areas of ice, and dark areas of unknown composition but hypothesized to be volcanic ash. The cliffs are thought to border volcanic caldera. Although the sheer drop of the Martian cliffs is extreme, the drop is not as deep as other areas in our Solar System, including the 3.4-kilometer depth of Colca Canyon on Earth and the 20 kilometer depth of Verona Rupes on Uranus' moon Miranda. The above image, digitally reconstructed into a perspective view, was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board the ESA's robotic Mars Express spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 August 28 - Eight Planets and New Solar System Designations
Explanation: How many planets are in the Solar System? This popular question now has a new formal answer according the International Astronomical Union (IAU): eight. Last week, the IAU voted on a new definition for planet and Pluto did not make the cut. Rather, Pluto was re-classified as a dwarf planet and is considered as a prototype for a new category of trans-Neptunian objects. The eight planets now recognized by the IAU are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Solar System objects now classified as dwarf planets are: Ceres, Pluto, and the currently unnamed 2003 UB313. Planets, by the new IAU definition, must be in orbit around the sun, be nearly spherical, and must have cleared the neighborhood around their orbits. The demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status is a source of continuing dissent and controversy in the astronomical community.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 June 18 - Crescent Neptune and Triton
Explanation: Gliding silently through the outer Solar System, the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera captured Neptune and Triton together in crescent phase in 1989. The above picture of the gas giant planet and its cloudy moon was taken from behind just after closest approach. It could not have been taken from Earth because Neptune never shows a crescent phase to sunward Earth. The unusual vantage point also robs Neptune of its familiar blue hue, as sunlight seen from here is scattered forward, and so is reddened like the setting Sun. Neptune is smaller but more massive than Uranus, has several dark rings, and emits more light than it receives from the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 15 - Steep Cliffs on Mars
Explanation: Vertical cliffs of nearly two kilometers occur near the North Pole of Mars. Also visible in the above image of the Martian North Polar Cap are red areas of rock and sand, white areas of ice, and dark areas of unknown composition but hypothesized to be volcanic ash. The cliffs are thought to border volcanic caldera. Although the sheer drop of the Martian cliffs is extreme, the drop is not as deep as other areas in our Solar System, including the 3.4-kilometer depth of Colca Canyon on Earth and the 20 kilometer depth of Verona Rupes on Uranus' moon Miranda. The above image, digitally reconstructed into a perspective view, was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board the ESA's robotic Mars Express spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 18 - A Sharper View of a Tilted Planet
Explanation: These sharp views of tilted gas giant Uranus show dramatic details of the planet's atmosphere and ring system. The remarkable ground-based images were made using a near-infrared camera and the Keck Adaptive Optics system to reduce the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere. Recorded in July, the pictures show two sides of Uranus (careful how you pronounce that ...). In both, high, white cloud features are seen mostly in the northern (right hand) hemisphere, with medium level cloud bands in green and lower level clouds in blue. The artificial color scheme lends a deep reddish tint to the otherwise faint rings. Because of the severe tilt of its rotational axis, seasons on Uranus are extreme and last nearly 21 Earth years on the distant planet. Uranus is now slowly approaching its southern autumnal equinox - the beginning of fall in the southern hemisphere - in 2007.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 14 - Solar System Portrait
Explanation: On another Valentine's Day (February 14, 1990), cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back to make this first ever family portrait of our Solar System. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System (far left) linking up with gas giant Neptune, at the time the Solar System's outermost planet (scroll right). Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by the corresponding letters while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Small, faint Pluto's position was not covered.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 December 16 - Retrograde Mars
Explanation: Why would Mars appear to move backwards? Most of the time, the apparent motion of Mars in Earth's sky is in one direction, slow but steady in front of the far distant stars. About every two years, however, the Earth passes Mars as they orbit around the Sun. During the most recent such pass in August, Mars loomed particularly large and bright. Also during this time, Mars appeared to move backwards in the sky, a phenomenon called retrograde motion. Pictured above is a series of images digitally stacked so that all of the stars images coincide. Here, Mars appears to trace out a loop in the sky. At the top of the loop, Earth passed Mars and the retrograde motion was the highest. Retrograde motion can also be seen for other Solar System planets. In fact, by coincidence, the dotted line to the right of the image center is Uranus doing the same thing.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 March 23 - Alpha Centauri: The Closest Star System
Explanation: The closest star system to the Sun is the Alpha Centauri system. Of the three stars in the system, the dimmest -- called Proxima Centauri -- is actually the nearest star. The bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B form a close binary as they are separated by only 23 times the Earth- Sun distance - slightly greater than the distance between Uranus and the Sun. In the above picture, the brightness of the stars overwhelm the photograph causing an illusion of great size, even though the stars are really just small points of light. The Alpha Centauri system is not visible in much of the northern hemisphere. Alpha Centauri A, also known as Rigil Kentaurus, is the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus and is the fourth brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest even thought it is more than twice as far away. By an exciting coincidence, Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun, causing many to speculate that it might contain planets that harbor life.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 September 22 - Two Hours Before Neptune
Explanation: Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the clouds-tops of Uranus and Neptune.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 16 - Miranda, Chevron, and Alonso
Explanation: Miranda is a bizarre world which surely had a tempestuous past. The innermost of the larger Uranian moons, Miranda is almost 300 miles in diameter and was discovered on today's date in 1948 by American planetary astronomer Gerard Kuiper. Examined very closely by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986, this dark and distant world turned out to be quite a surprise. Miranda was found to display a unique, bewildering variety of terrain leading some to suggest that it has been fractured up to 5 times during its evolution. Along with the famous "chevron" feature, the bright V-shaped area just above center, this composite of the highest resolution images of Miranda shows wild juxtapositions of ridges and valleys, older cratered and younger smooth surfaces, and shadowy canyons perhaps 12 miles deep. The large crater (below center) is the 15 mile wide crater Alonso.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 14 - Solar System Portrait
Explanation: On another Valentine's Day (February 14, 1990), cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back to make this first ever family portrait of our Solar System. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System (far left) linking up with gas giant Neptune, at the time the Solar System's outermost planet (scroll right). Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by the corresponding letters while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Small, faint Pluto's position was not covered.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 June 19 - Crescent Neptune and Triton
Explanation: Gliding silently through the outer Solar System, the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera captured Neptune and Triton together in crescent phase in 1989. The above picture of the gas giant planet and its cloudy moon was taken from behind just after closest approach. It could not have been taken from Earth because Neptune never shows a crescent phase to sunward Earth. The unusual vantage point also robs Neptune of its familiar blue hue, as sunlight seen from here is scattered forward, and so is reddened like the setting Sun. Neptune is smaller but more massive than Uranus, has several dark rings, and emits more light than it receives from the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 3 - New Moons For Saturn
Explanation: Which planet has the most moons? For now, it's Saturn. Four newly discovered satellites bring the ringed planet's total to twenty-two, just edging out Uranus' twenty-one for the most known moons in the solar system. Of course, the newfound Saturnian satellites are not large and photogenic. The faint S/2000 S 1, the first discovered in the year 2000, is the tiny dot indicated at the lower right of this August 7th image made with the ESO 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla, Chile. (An eye-catching spiral galaxy at the upper left is in the very distant background!) Unlike Saturn's larger moons whose almost circular orbits lie near the planet's equatorial plane, all four newly discovered moons have irregular, skewed orbits drifting far from the planet. With sizes in the 10 to 50 kilometer range, they are are likely captured asteroids. The international team of astronomers involved in the discoveries hopes to get many observations of the tiny satellites allowing accurate orbital computations before Saturn is lost in the solar glare around March 2001. The team has also found several other irregular satellite candidates which are now being followed. Saturn's only previously known irregular satellite is Phoebe, discovered over 100 years ago by W. H. Pickering,

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 September 30 - Titania's Trenches
Explanation: British astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered Titania and Oberon in January of 1787. He wasn't reading Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream though, he was making the first telescopic observations of moons of the planet Uranus (a planet which he himself discovered in 1781). In January of 1986, nearly 200 years later, NASA's robot explorer Voyager 2 became the only spacecraft to visit the remote Uranian system. Above is Voyager's highest resolution picture of Titania, Uranus' largest moon. The picture is a composite of two images recorded from a distance of 229,000 miles. The icy, rocky world is seen to be covered with impact craters. A prominent system of fault valleys, some nearly 1,000 miles long, is visible as trench-like features near the terminator (shadow line). Deposits of highly reflective material which may represent frost can be seen along the sun-facing valley walls. The large impact crater near the top, known as Gertrude, is about 180 miles across. At the bottom the 60 mile wide fault valley, Belmont Chasma, cuts into crater Ursula. Titania itself is 1,000 miles in diameter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 July 17 - Lightning on Earth
Explanation: Nobody knows what causes lightning. It is known that charges slowly separate in some clouds causing rapid electrical discharges (lightning), but how electrical charges get separated in clouds remains a topic of much research. Nevertheless, lightning bolts are common in clouds during rainstorms, and on average 6000 lightning bolts occur between clouds and the Earth every minute. Above, several lightning strokes were photographed behind Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Lightning has also been found on the planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. NASA launched the TRMM mission in 1997 that continues to measure rainfall and lightning on planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 5, 1999 - Two Hours Before Neptune
Explanation: Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Recent speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the clouds-tops of Uranus and Neptune.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 31, 1999 - Uranus Moon 18
Explanation: The discovery was there for the taking. An image of Uranus taken by Voyager 2 as it passed the giant planet 13 years ago apparently recorded a moon that had since gone unnoticed. The image on which Uranus' 18th moon was discovered was freely available from NASA. Erich Karkoschka (U. Arizona) noticed the moon when comparing a 1986 photo to a recent one taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The newly identified moon is hard to see but marked in the above photograph. Also visible are many other Uranian moons and background stars. The moon is the 18th known around Uranus, tying it with Saturn for the most around any planet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 5, 1999 - A Solar System Portrait
Explanation: As the Voyager 1 spacecraft headed out of our Solar System, it looked back and took a parting family portrait of the Sun and planets. From beyond Pluto, our Solar System looks like a bright star surrounded by faint dots. In the above picture, the Sun is so bright it is blocked out for contrast. The innermost dots visible, labeled E and V for Earth and Venus, are particularly hard to discern. Gas giants Jupiter (J) and Saturn (S) are much more noticeable. The outermost planets visible are Uranus (U) and Neptune (N). Each planet is shown labeled and digitally enhanced in an inset image. Voyager 1 is only one of four human-made objects to leave our Solar System, the other three being Voyager 2, and Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 6, 1999 - Miranda, Chevron, and Alonso
Explanation: Miranda is a bizarre world which surely had a tempestuous past. The innermost of the larger Uranian moons, Miranda is almost 300 miles in diameter and was discovered in 1948 by American planetary astronomer Gerard Kuiper. Examined very closely by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986, this dark and distant world turned out to be quite a surprise. Miranda was found to display a unique, bewildering variety of terrain leading some to suggest that it has been fractured up to 5 times during its evolution. Along with the famous "chevron" feature, the bright V-shaped area just above center, this composite of the highest resolution images of Miranda shows wild juxtapositions of ridges and valleys, older cratered and younger smooth surfaces, and shadowy canyons perhaps 12 miles deep. The large crater (below center) is the 15 mile wide crater Alonso.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 27, 1999 - Hamlet of Oberon
Explanation: What's in a name? Since 1919, the International Astronomical Union has been charged with the task of establishing "conventional" nomenclature for planets, satellites, and surface features. For the remote Uranian system of moons, namesakes from Shakespearean works have been chosen. Thus Oberon, king of the mid-summer night fairies, is also Uranus' most distant and second largest moon. Hamlet is the tragically dark, large and princely crater on its surface (right of center). The above image represents known surface features of Oberon and was constructed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) based on data from NASA's robot explorer Voyager 2. In 1986, Voyager 2 flew through the Uranian system - so far it has been the only spacecraft to do so.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 18, 1999 - Aerogel For Stardust
Explanation: On February 7th, this honey comb of aluminum cells filled with aerogel was launched on the STARDUST mission to interplanetary space. STARDUST's goal is to capture dust from a comet's tail and return to planet Earth - the first sample return mission to a comet! This structure represents about 1,000 square centimeters of area for collecting dust trailing within 150 kilometers of the nucleus of P/Wild-2. Comet P/Wild-2 is new to the inner Solar System. Having spent its life in orbit between Jupiter and Uranus, this comet was deflected in 1974 by a close encounter with Jupiter and now orbits between Jupiter and Earth. Dust from P/Wild-2 should impact the aerogel at high speeds and come to rest leaving carrot-shaped tracks in this amazingly tough, transparent, ultra-low density material. Returning to Earth by parachute in 2006, the cometary dust sample will be analyzed for clues to the formation and primordial composition of our Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 20, 1998 - Infrared Uranus
Explanation: The Sun's third largest planet usually looks quite dull. Uranus typically appears as a featureless small spot in a small telescope or a featureless large orb in a large telescope. Last August, however, the Hubble Space Telescope was able to photograph Uranus in infrared light, where the distant planet better shows its unusual clouds, rings, and moons. Recent analysis indicates that clouds seen here in orange appear to circle Uranus at speeds in excess of 500 kilometers per hour. Comparisons to earlier photographs show a slight precession shift in the brightest of Uranus' rings. Several of Uranus' numerous small moons are visible.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 17, 1998 - Our Solar System from Voyager
Explanation: After taking spectacular pictures of our Solar System's outer planets, Voyager 1 looked back at six planets to take our Solar System's first family portrait. Here Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, were all visible across the sky. Each, however, was now just a small speck of light, dimmer than many of the stars in the sky. Voyager 1 is only one of four human-made objects to leave our Solar System, the other three being Voyager 2, and Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 21, 1998 - Neptune: Big Blue Giant
Explanation: This picture was taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989 - the only spacecraft ever to visit Neptune. Neptune will be the farthest planet from the Sun until 1999, when the elliptical orbit of Pluto will cause it to once again resume this status. Neptune, like Uranus, is composed mostly of liquid water, methane and ammonia, is surrounded by a thick gas atmosphere of mostly hydrogen and helium, and has many moons and rings. Neptune's moon Triton is unlike any other and has active volcanoes. The nature of Triton's unusual orbit around Neptune is the focus of much discussion and speculation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 19, 1998 - Miranda
Explanation: Miranda is a bizarre world which surely had a tempestuous past. The innermost of the larger Uranian moons, Miranda is almost 300 miles in diameter and was discovered only 50 years ago (February 16, 1948) by the renown American planetary astronomer Gerard Kuiper. Examined very closely by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986, this dark and distant world turned out to be quite a surprise. Miranda was found to display a unique, bewildering variety of terrain leading some to suggest that it has been fractured up to 5 times during its evolution. Along with the famous "chevron" feature, the bright V-shaped area just above center, this composite of the highest resolution images of Miranda shows wild juxtapositions of ridges and valleys, older cratered and younger smooth surfaces, and shadowy canyons perhaps 12 miles deep. The large crater (below center) is the 15 mile wide crater Alonso.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 31, 1998 - Hamlet of Oberon
Explanation: What's in a name? Since 1919, the International Astronomical Union has been charged with the task of establishing "conventional" nomenclature for planets, satellites, and surface features. For the remote Uranian system of moons, namesakes from Shakespearean works have been chosen. Thus Oberon, king of the mid-summer night fairies, is also Uranus' most distant and second largest moon. Hamlet is the tragically dark, large and princely crater on its surface (right of center). The above image represents known surface features of Oberon and was constructed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) based on data from NASA's robot explorer Voyager 2. In 1986, Voyager 2 flew through the Uranian system - so far it has been the only spacecraft to do so.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 22, 1998 - Closer To Beta Pic
Explanation: What did our Solar System look like as the planets were forming? Since the 1980s, astronomers have been pointing toward Beta Pictoris, a young, sun-like star a mere 50 light-years distant, as a likely example. Beta Pic is surrounded by a disk of dust which we view nearly edge-on. The dust disk shines by reflected starlight and has been examined with ever increasing detail to search for signs of planetary formation. The trick is to follow the disk as close in to the star as possible, without being overwhelmed by the direct starlight. To make this Hubble Space Telescope image, a coronagraph was used to block the direct starlight and achieve the closest view yet. The false color picture shows the inner section of the dusty disk to within nearly 1.5 billion miles of the star itself, about the scale of the orbit of Uranus. The obvious warp is indirect evidence that a planet now orbits this young sun, slightly inclined to the disk. The planet's gravitational pull would produce the visible distortion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 4, 1997 - A Sky Full Of Planets
Explanation: Look up tonight. Just after sunset, the crescent moon and all five "naked-eye" planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) will be visible (depending on your latitude), lying near our solar system's ecliptic plane. Venus and Jupiter will shine brilliantly as the brightest "stars" in the sky, but Mercury will be near the horizon and hard to see. A pair of binoculars will also reveal Uranus and Neptune and observers with a telescope and a good site may even be able to glimpse faint Pluto just above the Western horizon in the fading twilight (not shown on the chart above). Enjoy this lovely spectacle any clear night through about December 8. A similar gathering is expected in May 2000 but the planets will be hidden from view by the solar glare. A night sky as full of planets as this one will occur again though ... in about 100 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 26, 1997 - Uranian Moons, Rings, And Clouds
Explanation: The giant planet Uranus is faint and featureless when viewed in visible light. But this pair of near-infrared mosaics from the Hubble Space Telescope's NICMOS camera reveals moons, rings, and clouds of this distant gas planet. The color coded images highlight different atmospheric layers - blue represents the deepest layers while the highest cloud features have a reddish tinge. Racing around the planet, high, bright clouds are seen to move substantially between the two pictures taken only ninety minutes apart. Ring systems are a common to the solar system's giant planets. Here the main Uranian ring seems to vary in width and is clearly brightest near the top. The eight specks beyond the ring system are small Uranian moons which also show counter-clockwise motion over ninety minutes as traced by the arrows on the right hand image.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 3, 1997 - Irregular Moons Discovered Around Uranus
Explanation: Where did these two irregular moons of Uranus originate? Last week two previously undiscovered moons of the distant gas planet were confirmed, the first in irregular orbits. All fifteen previously known moons of Uranus are 'regular', circling near the planet's equator. Most of these were discovered by the passing Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. These newly discovered moons are thought to be odd-shaped and about 100 km across. They are considered irregular, though, because they orbit in odd directions and far from Uranus. If Uranus' irregular moons have the same origin as those orbiting Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, then they were probably caught from orbits around the Sun. Moons like this are discovered by their motion. One of these moons is shown above as the circled point of light moving from left to right. (To stop the movie from repeating, click "stop" on most browsers.)

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 12, 1997 - Lightning on Jupiter
Explanation: Does lightning occur only on Earth? Spacecraft in our Solar System have detected radio signals consistent with lightning on other planets, including Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. In the above photograph, optical flashes from Jupiter were photographed recently by the Galileo orbiter. Each of the circled dots indicates lightning. The numbers label lines of latitude. The size of the largest spot is about 500 kilometers across and might be high clouds illuminated by several bright lightning strokes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 31, 1997 - Hamlet of Oberon
Explanation: What's in a name? Since 1919, the International Astronomical Union has been charged with the task of establishing "conventional" nomenclature for planets, satellites, and surface features. For the remote Uranian system of moons, namesakes from Shakespearean works have been chosen. Thus Oberon, king of the mid-summer night fairies, is also Uranus' most distant and second largest moon and Hamlet is a tragically large and princely crater on its surface. The above image represents known surface features of Oberon and was constructed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) based on data from NASA's robot explorer Voyager 2. Hamlet is the large dark crater to the right of center. In 1986, Voyager 2 flew through the Uranian system - so far it has been the only spacecraft to do so.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 11, 1997 - Titania's Trenches
Explanation: British astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered Titania and Oberon in 1787, 210 years ago today. He wasn't reading Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream though, he was making the first telescopic observations of moons of the planet Uranus (a planet which he himself discovered in 1781). On January 24, 1986 NASA's robot explorer Voyager 2 became the only spacecraft to visit the remote Uranian system. Above is Voyager's highest resolution picture of Titania, Uranus' largest moon - a composite of two images recorded from a distance of 229,000 miles. The icy, rocky world is seen to be covered with impact craters. A prominent system of fault valleys, some nearly 1,000 miles long, are visible as trench-like features near the terminator (shadow line). Deposits of highly reflective material which may represent frost can be seen along the sun-facing valley walls. The large impact crater near the top, known as Gertrude, is about 180 miles across. At the bottom the 60 mile wide fault valley, Belmont Chasma, cuts into crater Ursula. Titania itself is 1,000 miles in diameter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 14, 1996 - Our Solar System from Voyager
Explanation: After taking spectacular pictures of our Solar System's outer planets, Voyager 1 looked back at six planets to take our Solar System's first family portrait. Here Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, were all visible across the sky. Each, however, was now just a small speck of light, dimmer than many of the stars in the sky. Voyager 1 is only one of four human-made objects to leave our Solar System, the other three being Voyager 2, and Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 28, 1996 - NGC 5882: A Small Planetary Nebula
Explanation: Will most stars one day look like this? Pictured above is the planetary nebula NGC 5882, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Although planetary nebulae can appear similar to planets like Uranus and Neptune, they are actually gas clouds surrounding stars typically hundreds of light years away. Planetary nebula form when a typical star completes fusion in its core and ejects an outer envelope of gas - usually about 10 percent of the star's initial mass. This gas shell dims in about 50,000 years - short compared to the lifetimes of stars. Therefore, although only about 1000 planetary nebula are known in our Galaxy, it is thought that most stars go through this phase. Green light is emitted when oxygen ions acquire electrons from the surrounding gas.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 26, 1996 - Alpha Centauri: The Closest Star System
Explanation: The closest star system to the Sun is the Alpha Centauri system. Of the three stars in the system, the dimmest -- called Proxima Centauri -- is actually the nearest star. The bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B form a close binary as they are separated by only 23 times the Earth- Sun distance - slightly greater than the distance between Uranus and the Sun. In the above picture, the brightness of the stars overwhelm the photograph causing an illusion of great size, even though the stars are really just small points of light. The Alpha Centauri system is not visible in much of the northern hemisphere. Alpha Centauri A, also known as Rigil Kentaurus, is the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus and is the fourth brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest even thought it is more than twice as far away. By an exciting coincidence, Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun, causing many to speculate that it might contain planets that harbor life.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 30, 1996 - Uranus' Ring System
Explanation: The rings of Uranus are thin, narrow, and dark compared to other planetary ring systems. Brightened artificially by computer, the ring particles reflect as little light as charcoal, although they are really made of ice chucks darkened by rock. This false-color, infrared picture from the Hubble Space Telescope taken in July 1995 shows the rings in conjunction to the planet. The infrared light allows one to see detail in different layers of Uranus' atmosphere, which has been digitally enhanced with false color. Three other planets in our Solar System are known to have rings: Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. Four of Uranus' moons are visible outside the ring plane. The rings of Uranus were discovered from ground-based observations in 1977.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 8, 1996 - Uranus's Moon Oberon: Impact World
Explanation: Oberon is the most distant and second largest moon of Uranus. Discovered by William Herschel in 1787, the properties of the world remained relatively unknown until the robot spacecraft Voyager 2 passed it during its flyby of Uranus in January 1986. Compared to Uranus' moons Ariel, Titania, and Miranda, Oberon is heavily cratered, and in this way resembles Umbriel. Like all of Uranus' large moons, Oberon is composed of roughly half ice and half rock. Note that Oberon has at least one large mountain, visible on the limb at the lower left, that rises 6 km off the surface.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 7, 1996 - Uranus's Moon Umbriel: A Mysterious Dark World
Explanation: Why is Umbriel so dark? This dark moon reflects only half the light of other Uranus' moons such as Ariel. And what is that bright ring at the top? Unfortunately, nobody yet knows. These questions presented themselves when Voyager 2 passed this satellite of Uranus in January 1986. Voyager found an old surface with unusually large craters, and determined Umbriel's composition to be about half ice and half rock. Umbriel is the fourth largest and third most distant of Uranus' five large moons. Umbriel was discovered in 1851 by William Lassell.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 4, 1996 - Uranus' Largest Moon: Titania
Explanation: Titania's tortured terrain is a mix of valleys and craters. NASA's interplanetary robot spacecraft Voyager 2 passed this moon of Uranus in 1986 and took the above photograph. The photograph was then transmitted back to earth by radio. The valleys of Titania resemble those on Ariel indicate that Titania underwent some unknown tumultuous resurfacing event in its distant past. Although Titania is Uranus' largest moon, it is still much smaller than Triton - the largest moon of Uranus' sister planet Neptune. Titania is essentially a large dirty iceball that orbits Uranus - it is composed of about half water-ice and half rock. Titania was discovered by William Hershel in 1787.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 3, 1996 - Uranus' Moon Ariel: Valley World
Explanation: What formed Ariel's valleys? This question presented itself when Voyager 2 passed this satellite of Uranus in January 1986. Speculation includes that heating caused by the ancient tides of Uranus caused moonquakes and massive shifting of the moon's surface. In any event, a huge network of sunken valleys was found to cover this frozen moon, and some unknown material now coats the bottoms of many of these channels. Ariel is the second closest to Uranus outside of Miranda, and is composed of roughly half water ice and half rock. Ariel was discovered by William Lassell in 1851.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 24, 1995 - Uranus' Moon Miranda
Explanation: NASA's robot spacecraft Voyager 2 passed the planet Uranus and its moons in 1986. While the cloud tops of Uranus proved to be rather featureless, the surface of Miranda, the innermost of Uranus' large moons, showed several interesting features. Voyager 2 passed closer to Miranda than to any Solar System body and hence photographed it with the clearest resolution. Miranda's heavily cratered terrain shows grooves like Jupiter's moon Ganymede and several valleys and cliffs. Miranda is made of a roughly equal mix of ice and rock. Miranda was discovered by Gerard Kuiper in 1948.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 19, 1995 - Our Solar System from Voyager
Explanation: After taking its spectacular pictures of the outer solar system planets, Voyager 1 looked back at six planets from the inner solar system. Here Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, were all visible across the sky. Each, however, was now just a small speck of light, dimmer than many of the stars in the sky. Voyager 1 is only one of four human-made objects to leave our Solar System, the other three being Voyager 2, and Pioneer 10 and 11.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 17, 1995 - Neptune: Big Blue Giant
Explanation: This picture was taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986 - the only spacecraft ever to visit Neptune. Neptune will be the farthest planet from the Sun until 1999, when the elliptical orbit of Pluto will cause it to once again resume this status. Neptune, like Uranus, is composed mostly of liquid water, methane and ammonia, is surrounded by a thick gas atmosphere of mostly hydrogen and helium, and has many moons and rings. Neptune's moon Triton is unlike any other and has active volcanoes. The nature of Triton's unusual orbit around Neptune is the focus of much discussion and speculation.

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

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 2, 1995 - Jupiter's Rings
Explanation: Astronomers using NASA's Voyager spacecraft to search for a ring system around Jupiter discovered these faint rings in 1979. Unlike Saturn's bright rings which are composed of chunks of rock and ice, Jupiter's rings appear to consist of fine particles of dust. One possibility is that the dust is produced by impacts with Jupiter's inner moons. This false color image has been computer enhanced.


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