The Astronomy Picture of the Day is a wonderful web site that puts up a different astronomy-related picture every day. However, the site does not have an RSS feed. This page fixes that deficiency.
Updated: 1 hour 12 min ago
Sharp Stereo Get out your red/blue glasses and gaze across the floor of Gale crater on Mars. From your vantage point on the deck of the Curiosity Rover Mount Sharp, the crater's 5 kilometer high central mountain looms over the southern horizon. Poised in the foreground is the rover's robotic arm with tool turret extended toward the flat veined patch of martian surface dubbed "John Klein". A complete version of the stereo view spans 360 degrees, digitally stitched together from the rover's left and right navigation camera frames taken in late January. The layered lower slopes of Mount Sharp, formally known as Aeolis Mons, are a future destination for Curiosity.
A Year on the Sun Our solar system's miasma of incandescent plasma, the Sun may look a little scary here. The picture is a composite of 25 images recorded in extreme ultraviolet light by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory between April 16, 2012 and April 15, 2013. The particular wavelength of light, 171 angstroms, shows emission from highly ionized iron atoms in the solar corona at a characteristic temperatures of about 600,000 kelvins (about 1 million degrees F). Girdling both sides of the equator during the approach to maximum in its 11-year solar cycle, the solar active regions are laced with bright loops and arcs along magnetic field lines. Of course, a more familiar visible light view would show the bright active regions as groups of dark sunspots. Three years of Solar Dynamics Observatory images are compressed into this short video.
Lunar Eclipses The dark, inner shadow of planet Earth is called the umbra. Shaped like a cone extending into space, it has a circular cross section and is most easily seen during a lunar eclipse. But the complete cross section is larger than the Moon's angular size in the stages of an eclipse. Still, this thoughtful composite illustrates the full extent of the circular shadow by utilizing images from both partial and total eclipses passing through different parts of the umbra. The images span the years 1997 to 2011, diligently captured with the same optics, from Voronezh, Russia. Along the bottom and top are stages of the partial lunar eclipses from September 2006 and August 2008 respectively. In the rightside bottom image, the Moon is entering the umbra for the total eclipse of September 1997. At left bottom, the Moon leaves the umbra after totality in May 2004. Middle right, center, and left, are stages of the total eclipse of June 2011, including the central, deep red total phase. During today's brief partial lunar eclipse seen only from the eastern hemisphere, the Moon will just slightly graze the umbra's lower edge.
Airglow, Gegenschein, and Milky Way As far as the eye could see, it was a dark night at Las Campanas Observatory in the southern Atacama desert of Chile. But near local midnight on April 11, this mosaic of 3 minute long exposures revealed a green, unusually intense, atmospheric airglow stretching over thin clouds. Unlike aurorae powered by collisions with energetic charged particles and seen at high latitudes, the airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light in a chemical reaction, and found around the globe. The chemical energy is provided by the Sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation. Like aurorae, the greenish hue of this airglow does originate at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so dominated by emission from excited oxygen atoms. The gegenschein, sunlight reflected by dust along the solar system's ecliptic plane was still visible on that night, a faint bluish cloud just right of picture center. At the far right, the Milky Way seems to rise from the mountain top perch of the Magellan telescopes. Left are the OGLE project and du Pont telescope domes.
NGC 1788 and the Witch's Whiskers This skyscape finds an esthetic balance of interstellar dust and gas residing in the suburbs of the nebula rich constellation of Orion. Reflecting the light of bright star Rigel, Beta Orionis, the jutting, bluish chin of the Witch Head Nebula is at the upper left. Whiskers tracing the red glow of hydrogen gas ionized by ultraviolet starlight seem to connect that infamous visage with smaller nebulae, like dusty reflection nebula NGC 1788 at the right. Strong winds from Orion's bright stars have also shaped NGC 1788, and likely triggered the formation of the young stars within. Appropriate for its location, NGC 1788 looks to some like a cosmic bat. The scene spans about 3 degrees on the sky or 6 full Moons.
Star Factory Messier 17 Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation, the star factory known as Messier 17 lies some 5,500 light-years away in the nebula-rich constellation Sagittarius. At that distance, this degree wide field of view spans almost 100 light-years. The sharp, composite, color image utilizing data from space and ground based telescopes, follows faint details of the region's gas and dust clouds against a backdrop of central Milky Way stars. Stellar winds and energetic light from hot, massive stars formed from M17's stock of cosmic gas and dust have slowly carved away at the remaining interstellar material producing the cavernous appearance and undulating shapes. M17 is also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.
Sun with Solar Flare This week the Sun gave up its strongest solar flare so far in 2013, accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME) headed toward planet Earth. A false-color composite image in extreme ultraviolet light from the Solar Dynamics Observatory captures the moment, recorded on April 11 at 0711 UTC. The flash, a moderate, M6.5 class flare erupting from active region AR 11719, is near the center of the solar disk. Other active regions, areas of intense magnetic fields seen as sunspot groups in visible light, mottle the surface as the solar maximum approaches. Loops and arcs of glowing plasma trace the active regions' magnetic field lines. A massive cloud of energetic, charged particles, the CME will impact the Earth's magnetosphere by this weekend and skywatchers should be on the alert for auroral displays.
Yuri's Planet On another April 12th, in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human to see planet Earth from space. Commenting on his view from orbit he reported, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". On yet another April 12th, in 1981 NASA launched the first space shuttle. To celebrate in 2013, consider this image from the orbiting International Space Station, a stunning view of the planet at night from low Earth orbit. Constellations of lights connecting the densely populated cities along the Atlantic east coast of the United States are framed by two Russian spacecraft docked at the space station. Easy to recognize cities include New York City and Long Island at the right. From there, track toward the left for Philadelphia, Baltimore, and then Washington DC near picture center.
Darkened City In a haunting vista you can never see, bright stars and the central Milky Way rise over the dark skyline of metropolitan Pudong in Shanghai, China. Looking east across the Huangpu River, the cityscape includes Pudong's 470 meter tall Oriental Pearl Tower. The night sky stretches from Antares and the stars of Scorpius at the far right, to Altair in Aquila at the left. To create the vision of an unseen reality, part of a series of Darkened Cities, photographer Thierry Cohen has combined a daytime image of the city skyline with an image matched in orientation from a dark sky region at the same latitude, just west of Merzouga, Morocco. The result finds the night sky that hours earlier also arced over Shanghai, but drowned in the lights of a city upon the sea.