NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2016-8

Behind Saturn

What's behind Saturn? The first answer is the camera itself, perched on the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting behind the planet with the most grand ring system in our Solar System. The unusual perspective places Cassini on the far side of Saturn from the Sun so that more than half of Saturn appears dark -- a perspective that no Earth-based observer could achieve. Behind Saturn, in the context of the featured infrared image, is Saturn's moon Tethys, visible as the small speck above the unusual hexagonal cloud pattern that encompasses Saturn's North Pole. Tethys actually orbits Saturn right in the ring plane, which places the 1000-km moon much farther from Cassini than the planet itself. Cassini has been studying Saturn and its moons for 12 years, but, unfortunately, its amazing mission will soon come to an end. In order to protect life that may exist on or inside Saturn's moons, the robotic spacecraft will be directed to crash into Saturn's thick atmosphere next September. Follow APOD on: Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, or Twitter

A Rocket Booster Falls Back to Earth

What's that crossing the sky? Although it looked a bit like a large meteor, it was actually the booster of a Chinese rocket returning to Earth after its launch two days earlier. On the night of July 27, the rocket component heated up and broke up into glowing pieces as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. The path of the falling booster took it over several US states, moving west to east, from California to Utah. Space debris can usually be distinguished from meteors by its slow speed and expansive break up. The featured video was taken in front of the Provo City Library in Utah, which was coincidently occupied by over 100 people -- many with smartphones already out of their pockets playing Pokémon GO.

Behold the Universe

What if you climbed up on a rock and discovered the Universe? You can. Although others have noted much of it before, you can locate for yourself stars, planets, and even the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. All you need is a dark clear sky -- the rock is optional. If you have a camera, you can further image faint nebulas, galaxies, and long filaments of interstellar dust. If you can process digital images, you can bring out faint features, highlight specific colors, and merge foreground and background images. In fact, an industrious astrophotographer has done all of these to create the presented picture. All of the component images were taken early last month on the same night within a few meters of each other. The picturesque setting was Sand Beach in Stonington, Maine, USA with the camera pointed south over Penobscot Bay. News: APOD is now available through Facebook translated into Catalan.

M63: Sunflower Galaxy Wide Field

The Sunflower Galaxy blooms near the center of this wide field telescopic view. The scene spans about 2 degrees or 4 full moons on the sky toward the loyal constellation Canes Venatici. More formally known as Messier 63, the majestic island universe is nearly 100,000 light-years across, about the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Surrounding its bright yellowish core, sweeping spiral arms are streaked with cosmic dust lanes and dotted with star forming regions. A dominant member of a known galaxy group, M63 has faint, extended features that could be the the remains of dwarf satellite galaxies, evidence that large galaxies grow by accreting small ones. M63 shines across the electromagnetic spectrum and is thought to have undergone bursts of intense star formation.

Apollo 15 Panorama

On July 31, 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts Jim Irwin and Dave Scott deployed the first Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon. Using it to explore their Hadley-Apennine landing site they spent nearly three days on the Moon while Al Worden orbited above. This digitally stitched panorama shows Scott examining a boulder on the slope of 3.5 kilometer high Mons Hadley Delta to the left of their electric-powered, four-wheel drive vehicle. The sun at his back, Irwin casts the strong shadow to the rover's right. The panoramic view extends farther right to the sunward direction, over Hadley Rille and lunar terrain, revealed in harsh, unfiltered sunlight. In total, the rover traversed 28 kilometers (17 miles) on the lunar surface. The Apollo 15 mission returned about 76 kilograms of moon rocks to planet Earth.

Las Campanas Moon and Mercury

Last Thursday the view toward sunset from the 2.5 kilometer summit of Cerro Las Campanas in the remote Chilean Andes was amazing. Bright but fading Mercury stood very close to a two day old Moon. Both a sunlit lunar crescent and earthlit lunar nightside are captured with the fleeting innermost planet in this breathtaking mountainscape. Even below the conjunction of Moon and Mercury, a close pairing of brilliant Venus and bright star Regulus hangs in the sky, still above the colorful western horizon. Of course amazing skies above Las Campanas are not unexpected. The region is currently home to the twin Magellan telescopes of the Las Campanas Observatory and the summit location is the site of the future Giant Magellan Telescope.

Io: Moon over Jupiter

How big is Jupiter's moon Io? The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced "EYE-oh") is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth's single large natural satellite. Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet's relative size. Although in the featured picture Io appears to be located just in front of the swirling Jovian clouds, Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts Io nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon. In July, NASA's Juno satellite began orbiting Jupiter and will sometimes swoop to within 5,000 kilometers of Jupiter's cloud tops.

Perseid Meteors over Mount Shasta

Where are all of these meteors coming from? In terms of direction on the sky, the pointed answer is the constellation of Perseus. That is why the meteor shower that peaks later this week is known as the Perseids -- the meteors all appear to came from a radiant toward Perseus. In terms of parent body, though, the sand-sized debris that makes up the Perseids meteors come from Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet follows a well-defined orbit around our Sun, and the part of the orbit that approaches Earth is superposed in front of the Perseus. Therefore, when Earth crosses this orbit, the radiant point of falling debris appears in Perseus. Featured here, a composite image containing over 60 meteors from last August's Perseids meteor shower shows many bright meteors that streaked over Mount Shasta, California, USA. This year's Perseids holds promise to be the best meteor shower of the year. Transparent Science: Browse 1,300+ codes in the Astrophysics Source Code Library

Mars at Closest Approach

When does Mars appear the largest? This occurs when Earth sweeps past Mars in their respective orbits around the Sun, creating a momentary Sun-Earth-Mars alignment called opposition. The featured image shows the Mars opposition that occurred earlier this year, as well as how Mars will look later this year. Mars actually changes its size continuously -- the monthly jumps in size are illustrative. During the first months of the year, Earth's view toward Mars is from relatively far away and from a relatively sideways angle -- making Mars appear small and at less than full phase (gibbous). As months progress, Mars appears increasingly larger and fuller. The day Earth and Mars were closest together was on May 30. By June, Earth had passed Mars, and part of the other side of Mars appeared shadowed. Mars will now appear increasingly smaller during 2016. Even if you watch Mars from Earth all along its orbit, though, Mars will never show a crescent phase. Note: The video originally featured in this APOD has been replaced.

Colliding Galaxies in Stephan's Quintet

Will either of these galaxies survive? In what might be dubbed as a semi-final round in a galactic elimination tournament, the two spirals of NGC 7318 are colliding. The featured picture was created from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. When galaxies crash into each other, many things may happen including gravitational distortion, gas condensing to produce new episodes of star formation, and ultimately the two galaxies combining into one. Since these two galaxies are part of Stephan's Quintet, a final round of battling galaxies will likely occur over the next few billion years with the eventual result of many scattered stars and one large galaxy. Quite possibly, the remaining galaxy will not be easily identified with any of its initial galactic components. Stephan's Quintet was the first identified galaxy group, lies about 300 million light years away, and is visible through a moderately-sized telescope toward the constellation of the Winged Horse (Pegasus). Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

Perseid, Aurora, and Noctilucent Clouds

Night skies over northern Sweden can hold some tantalizing sights in August. Gazing toward the Big Dipper, this beautiful skyscape captures three of them in a single frame taken last August 12/13. Though receding from northern skies for the season, night shining or noctilucent clouds are hanging just above the horizon. Extreme altitude icy condensations on meteoric dust, they were caught here just below an early apparition of a lovely green auroral band, also shining near the edge of space. The flash of a Perseid meteor near the peak of the annual shower punctuates the scene. In fact, this year's Perseid shower will peak in the coming days, offering a continuing chance for a night sky photographer's hat trick.

The Easterbunny Comes to NGC 4725

At first called "Easterbunny" by its discovery team, officially named Makemake is the second brightest dwarf planet of the Kuiper belt. The icy world appears twice in this astronomical image, based on data taken on June 29 and 30 of the bright spiral galaxy NGC 4725. Makemake is marked by short red lines, its position shifting across a homemade telescope's field-of-view over two nights along a distant orbit. On those dates nearly coincident with the line-of-sight to the spiral galaxy in the constellation Coma Berenices, Makemake was about 52.5 astronomical units or 7.3 light-hours away. NGC 4725 is over 100,000 light-years across and 41 million light-years distant. Makemake is now known to have at least one moon. NGC 4725 is a famous one-armed spiral galaxy. Look Up! Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid from Torralba del Burgo

Perseid meteors rained on planet Earth last night. This year the stream of dust from periodic comet Swift-Tuttle has produced a stunningly active shower of bright cosmic streaks. In this 25 second long exposure, one luminous Perseid trail, fast and colorful with a small explosion at the end, is witnessed by night skygazers from Torralba del Burgo, Soria, Spain. A second fainter meteor trail appears well below the first. The two can be extended to intersect at the meteor shower's radiant just above the brighter stars of the heroic constellation Perseus. Though the meteor shower's activity is waning, in the coming days Perseids will still flash through the night. But you won't see any if you don't go outside and look up.

The Keyhole in the Carina Nebula

The dark dusty Keyhole Nebula gets its name from its unusual shape. The looping Keyhole, in this featured classic image by the Hubble Space Telescope, is a smaller region inside the larger Carina Nebula. Dramatic dark dust knots and complex features are sculpted by the winds and radiation of the Carina Nebula's many massive and energetic stars. In particular, the shape of the dust cloud on the upper left of the Keyhole Nebula may stimulate the human imagination to appear similar to, for example, a superhero flying through a cloud, arm up, with a saved person in tow below. The region lies about 7,500 light-years away in planet Earth's southern sky. The Keyhole Nebula was created by the dying star Eta Carina , out of the frame, which is prone to violent outbursts during its final centuries. Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

Human as Spaceship

You are a spaceship soaring through the universe. So is your dog. We all carry with us trillions of microorganisms as we go through life. These multitudes of bacteria, fungi, and archaea have different DNA than you. Collectively called your microbiome, your shipmates outnumber your own cells. Your crew members form communities, help digest food, engage in battles against intruders, and sometimes commute on a liquid superhighway from one end of your body to the other. Much of what your microbiome does, however, remains unknown. You are the captain, but being nice to your crew may allow you to explore more of your local cosmos. Perseid Meteors 2016: Album 1 & Album 2

Five Planets and the Moon over Australia

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 several of the brightest planets all appear in nearly the same direction. Such a coincidence was captured last week. Featured above, six planets and Earth's Moon were all imaged together last week, just after sunset, from Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia. A second band is visible across the top of this tall image -- the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Perseid Meteors 2016: Album 1 & Album 2

Meteor before Galaxy

What's that green streak in front of the Andromeda galaxy? A meteor. While photographing the Andromeda galaxy last Friday, near the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, a sand-sized rock from deep space crossed right in front of our Milky Way Galaxy's far-distant companion. The small meteor took only a fraction of a second to pass through this 10-degree field. The meteor flared several times while braking violently upon entering Earth's atmosphere. The green color was created, at least in part, by the meteor's gas glowing as it vaporized. Although the exposure was timed to catch a Perseids meteor, the orientation of the imaged streak seems a better match to a meteor from the Southern Delta Aquariids, a meteor shower that peaked a few weeks earlier. Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

Perseid Night at Yosemite

The 2016 Perseid meteor shower performed well on the night of August 11/12. The sky on that memorable evening was recorded from a perch overlooking Yosemite Valley, planet Earth, in this scene composed of 25 separate images selected from an all-night set of sequential exposures. Each image contains a single meteor and was placed in alignment using the background stars. The digital manipulation accounts for the Earth's rotation throughout the night and allows the explosion of colorful trails to be viewed in perspective toward the shower's radiant in the constellation Perseus. The fading alpenglow gently lights the west face of El Capitan just after sunset. Just before sunrise, a faint band zodiacal light, or the false dawn, shines upward from the east, left of Half Dome at the valley's far horizon. Car lights illuminate the valley road. Of course, the image is filled with other celestial sights from that Perseid night, including the Milky Way and the Pleiades star cluster.

Perseid Fireball at Sunset Crater

On the night of August 12, this bright Perseid meteor flashed above volcanic Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona, USA, planet Earth. Streaking along the summer Milky Way, its initial color is likely due to the shower meteor's characteristically high speed. Entering at 60 kilometers per second, Perseid meteors are capable of exciting green emission from oxygen atoms while passing through the tenuous atmosphere at high altitudes. Also characteristic of bright meteors, this Perseid left a visibly glowing persistent train. Its evolution is seen over a three minute sequence (left to right) spanning the bottom of the frame. The camera ultimately captured a dramatic timelapse video of the twisting, drifting train.

Gamma-rays and Comet Dust

Gamma-rays and dust from periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle plowed through planet Earth's atmosphere on the night of August 11/12. Impacting at about 60 kilometers per second the grains of comet dust produced this year's remarkably active Perseid meteor shower. This composite wide-angle image of aligned shower meteors covers a 4.5 hour period on that Perseid night. In it the flashing meteor streaks can be traced back to the shower's origin on the sky. Alongside the Milky Way in the constellation Perseus, the radiant marks the direction along the perodic comet's orbit. Traveling at the speed of light, cosmic gamma-rays impacting Earth's atmosphere generated showers too, showers of high energy particles. Just as the meteor streaks point back to their origin, the even briefer flashes of light from the particles can be used to reconstruct the direction of the particle shower, to point back to the origin on the sky of the incoming gamma-ray. Unlike the meteors, the incredibly fast particle shower flashes can't be followed by eye. But both can be followed by the high speed cameras on the multi-mirrored dishes in the foreground. Of course, the dishes are MAGIC (Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov) telescopes, an Earth-based gamma-ray observatory on the Canary Island of La Palma.

Map of Total Solar Eclipse Path in 2017 August

Would you like to see a total eclipse of the Sun? If so, do any friends or relatives live near the path of next summer's eclipse? If yes again, then you might want to arrange a visit for one year from today. Next year on this exact date, the path of a total solar eclipse will cut right across the center of the contiguous USA. All of North America and part of South America will experience, at the least, a partial solar eclipse. Featured here is a map of the path of totality, computed by eclipse expert Fred Espenak of NASA's GSFC. Many people who have seen a total solar eclipse tell stories about it for the rest of their lives. The last path of solar totality that included any part of the contiguous USA was in 1979, and the next two will be in 2024 and 2044. Zoom in: An interactive map of the eclipse path.

Tutulemma: Solar Eclipse Analemma

If you went outside at exactly the same time every day and took a picture that included the Sun, how would the Sun's position change? With great planning and effort, such a series of images can be taken. The figure-8 path the Sun follows over the course of a year is called an analemma. At the Winter Solstice in Earth's northern hemisphere, the Sun appears at the bottom of the analemma. Analemmas created from different latitudes appear at least slightly different, as well as analemmas created at a different time each day. With even greater planning and effort, the series can include a total eclipse of the Sun as one of the images. Pictured is such a total solar eclipse analemma or Tutulemma - a term coined by the photographers based on the Turkish word for eclipse. The featured composite image sequence was recorded from Turkey starting in 2005. The base image for the sequence is from the total phase of a solar eclipse as viewed from Side, Turkey on 2006 March 29. Venus was also visible during totality, toward the lower right. If you want to create your own USA-based tutulemma ending at next August's total solar eclipse, now would be good time to start. Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

Gigantic Jet Lightning over China

That's no meteor. While watching and photographing this year's Perseid Meteor Shower, something unexpected happened: a gigantic jet erupted from a nearby cloud. The whole thing was over in a flash -- it lasted less than a second -- but was fortunately captured by an already-recording digital camera. Gigantic jets are a rare form of lightning recognized formally only a few years ago. The featured high resolution color image, taken near the peak of Shikengkong mountain in China, may be the best image yet of this unusual phenomenon. The same event appears to have been captured simultaneously by another photographer, further away. The gigantic jet appears to start somewhere in a nearby thundercloud and extend upwards towards Earth's ionosphere. The nature of gigantic jets and their possible association with other types of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as blue jets and red sprites remains an active topic of research. Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

Curiosity at Murray Buttes on Mars

What are these unusual lumps on Mars? As NASA's robotic Curiosity rover continues rolling across Mars, it is now approaching Murray Buttes. Several of the 15-meter high buttes are visible ahead in this horizontally compressed 360-degree across image taken inside Gale Crater earlier this month. The buttes are thought similar to Earth buttes in that they are capped with dense rock that is relatively resistant to erosion. In the image center is Curiosity's "arm" and "hand" used to examine rocks up close, drill into rocks, and collect samples. Curiosity has reached its four year anniversary on Mars and has been cleared to spend the next two years further exploring the slopes of Mount Sharp, the peak of which is the distant light-colored structure visible on the far left. Interactive View: YouTube 360-degree tilt and scroll image version

Closest Star has Potentially Habitable Planet

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

The Milky Way Sets

Under dark skies the setting of the Milky Way can be a dramatic sight. Stretching nearly parallel to the horizon, this rich, edge-on vista of our galaxy above the dusty Namibian desert stretches from bright, southern Centaurus (left) to Cepheus in the north (right). From early August, the digitally stitched, panoramic night skyscape captures the Milky Way's congeries of stars and rivers of cosmic dust, along with colors of nebulae not readily seen with the eye. Mars, Saturn, and Antares, visible even in more luminous night skies, form the the bright celestial triangle just touching the trees below the galaxy's central bulge. Of course, our own galaxy is not the only galaxy in the scene. Two other major members of our local group, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy, lie near the right edge of the frame, beyond the arc of the setting Milky Way.

Lunar Orbiter Earthset

August 10th was the 50th anniversary of the launch of Lunar Orbiter 1. It was the first of five Lunar Orbiters intended to photograph the Moon's surface to aid in the selection of future landing sites. That spacecraft's camera captured the data used in this restored, high-resolution version of its historic first image of Earth from the Moon on August 23, 1966 while on its 16th lunar orbit. Hanging almost stationary in the sky when viewed from the lunar surface, Earth appears to be setting beyond the rugged lunar horizon from the perspective of the orbiting spacecraft. Two years later, the Apollo 8 crew would record a more famous scene in color: Earthrise from lunar orbit.

Abell 370: Galaxy Cluster Gravitational Lens

What is that strange arc? While imaging the cluster of galaxies Abell 370, astronomers had noted an unusual arc to the right of many cluster galaxies. Although curious, one initial response was to avoid commenting on the arc because nothing like it had ever been noted before. In the mid-1980s, however, better images allowed astronomers to identify the arc as a prototype of a new kind of astrophysical phenomenon -- the gravitational lens effect of entire cluster of galaxies on background galaxies. Today, we know that this arc actually consists of two distorted images of a fairly normal galaxy that happened to lie far behind the huge cluster. Abell 370's gravity caused the background galaxies' light -- and others -- to spread out and come to the observer along multiple paths, not unlike a distant light appears through the stem of a wine glass. In mid-July of 2009, astronomers used the then just-upgraded Hubble Space Telescope to image Abell 370 and its gravitational lens images in unprecedented detail. Almost all of the yellow images featured here are galaxies in the Abell 370 cluster. An astute eye can pick up many strange arcs and distorted arclets, however, that are actually images of more distant galaxies. Studying Abell 370 and its images gives astronomers a unique window into the distribution of normal and dark matter in galaxy clusters and the universe. Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

Young Suns of NGC 7129

Young suns still lie within dusty NGC 7129, some 3,000 light-years away toward the royal constellation Cepheus. While these stars are at a relatively tender age, only a few million years old, it is likely that our own Sun formed in a similar stellar nursery some five billion years ago. Most noticeable in the sharp image are the lovely bluish dust clouds that reflect the youthful starlight. But the compact, deep red crescent shapes are also markers of energetic, young stellar objects. Known as Herbig-Haro objects, their shape and color is characteristic of glowing hydrogen gas shocked by jets streaming away from newborn stars. Paler, extended filaments of reddish emission mingling with the bluish clouds are caused by dust grains effectively converting the invisible ultraviolet starlight to visible red light through photoluminesence. Ultimately the natal gas and dust in the region will be dispersed, the stars drifting apart as the loose cluster orbits the center of the Galaxy. The processing of this remarkable composite image has revealed the faint red strands of emission at the upper right. They are recently recognized as a likely supernova remnant and are currently being analyzed by Bo Reipurth (Univ. Hawaii) who obtained the image data at the Subaru telescope. At the estimated distance of NGC 7129, this telescopic view spans over 40 light-years. Photo Gallery: Jupiter & Venus Conjunction of 2016 August

Aurora over Icelandic Fault

Admire the beauty but fear the beast. The beauty is the aurora overhead, here taking the form of great green spiral, seen between picturesque clouds with the bright Moon to the side and stars in the background. The beast is the wave of charged particles that creates the aurora but might, one day, impair civilization. Exactly this week in 1859, following notable auroras seen all across the globe, a pulse of charged particles from a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with a solar flare impacted Earth's magnetosphere so forcefully that they created the Carrington Event. A relatively direct path between the Sun and the Earth might have been cleared by a preceding CME. What is sure is that the Carrington Event compressed the Earth's magnetic field so violently that currents were created in telegraph wires so great that many wires sparked and gave telegraph operators shocks. Were a Carrington-class event to impact the Earth today, speculation holds that damage might occur to global power grids and electronics on a scale never yet experienced. The featured aurora was imaged last week over Thingvallavatn Lake in Iceland, a lake that partly fills a fault that divides Earth's large Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Free Download: APOD 2017 Calendar: NASA Images

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