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Astronomy Picture of the Day (APoD)
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Discover the cosmos!
Discover the cosmos!

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A White Oval Cloud on Jupiter from Juno
Image Credit: +NASA, +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Caltech, SwRI, MSSS; Processing: Roman Tkachenko
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170228.html

This storm cloud on Jupiter is almost as large as the Earth. Known as a white oval, the swirling cloud is a high pressure system equivalent to an Earthly anticyclone. The cloud is one of a "string of pearls" ovals south of Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot. Possibly, the Great Red Spot is just a really large white oval than turned red. Surrounding clouds show interesting turbulence as they flow around and past the oval. The featured image was captured on February 2 as NASA's robotic spacecraft Juno made a new pass just above the cloud tops of the Jovian world. Over the next few years, Juno will continue to orbit and probe Jupiter, determine atmospheric water abundance, and attempt to determine if Jupiter has a solid surface beneath its thick clouds.
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Four Quasar Images Surround a Galaxy Lens
Image Credit: +European Space Agency, ESA /Hubble, +NASA, Sherry Suyu et al.
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170227.html

An odd thing about the group of lights near the center is that four of them are the same distant quasar. This is because the foreground galaxy -- in the center of the quasar images and the featured image -- is acting like a choppy gravitational lens. A perhaps even odder thing is that by watching these background quasars flicker, you can estimate the expansion rate of the universe. That is because the flicker timing increases as the expansion rate increases. But to some astronomers, the oddest thing of all is that these multiply imaged quasars indicate a universe that is expanding a bit faster than has been estimated by different methods that apply to the early universe. And that is because ... well, no one is sure why. Reasons might include an unexpected distribution of dark matter, some unexpected effect of gravity, or something completely different. Perhaps future observations and analyses of this and similarly lensed quasar images will remove these oddities.
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A Supercell Thunderstorm Cloud Over Montana
Image Credit & Copyright: Sean R. Heavey
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170226.html

Is that a spaceship or a cloud? Although it may seem like an alien mothership, it's actually a impressive thunderstorm cloud called a supercell. Such colossal storm systems center on mesocyclones -- rotating updrafts that can span several kilometers and deliver torrential rain and high winds including tornadoes. Jagged sculptured clouds adorn the supercell's edge, while wind swept dust and rain dominate the center. A tree waits patiently in the foreground. The above supercell cloud was photographed in 2010 July west of Glasgow, Montana, USA, caused minor damage, and lasted several hours before moving on.
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All Planets Panorama
Image Credit & Copyright: Tunç Tezel (TWAN)
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170225.html

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.
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NGC 3621: Far Beyond the Local Group
Image Credit & Copyright: Processing - Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari; Data - Hubble Legacy Archive, European Southern Observatory, et al.
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170224.html

Far beyond the local group of galaxies lies NGC 3621, some 22 million light-years away. Found in the multi-headed southern constellation Hydra, the winding spiral arms of this gorgeous island universe are loaded with luminous blue star clusters, pinkish starforming regions, and dark dust lanes. Still, for astronomers NGC 3621 has not been just another pretty face-on spiral galaxy. Some of its brighter stars have been used as standard candles to establish important estimates of extragalactic distances and the scale of the Universe. This beautiful image of NGC 3621, is a composite of space- and ground-based telescope data. It traces the loose spiral arms far from the galaxy's brighter central regions for some 100,000 light-years. Spiky foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy and even more distant background galaxies are scattered across the colorful skyscape.
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Seven Worlds for TRAPPIST-1
Illustration Credit: +NASA , +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Caltech, Spitzer Space Telescope, Robert Hurt (Spitzer, Caltech)
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170223.html

Seven worlds orbit the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, a mere 40 light-years away. In May 2016 astronomers using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) announced the discovery of three planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Just announced, additional confirmations and discoveries by the Spitzer Space Telescope and supporting ESO ground-based telescopes have increased the number of known planets to seven. The TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely all rocky and similar in size to Earth, the largest treasure trove of terrestrial planets ever detected around a single star. Because they orbit very close to their faint, tiny star they could also have regions where surface temperatures allow for the presence of liquid water, a key ingredient for life. Their tantalizing proximity to Earth makes them prime candidates for future telescopic explorations of the atmospheres of potentially habitable planets. All seven worlds appear in this artist's illustration, an imagined view from a fictionally powerful telescope near planet Earth. Planet sizes and relative positions are drawn to scale for the Spitzer observations. The system's inner planets are transiting their dim, red, nearly Jupiter-sized parent star.
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Daphnis and the Rings of Saturn
Image Credit: +NASA, +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Caltech, Space Science Institute, Cassini
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170222.html

What's happening to the rings of Saturn? Nothing much, just a little moon making waves. The moon is 8-kilometer Daphnis and it is making waves in the Keeler Gap of Saturn's rings using just its gravity -- as it bobs up and down, in and out. The featured image is a wide-field version of a previously released image taken last month by the robotic Cassini spacecraft during one of its new Grand Finale orbits. Daphnis can be seen on the far right, sporting ridges likely accumulated from ring particles. Daphnis was discovered in Cassini images in 2005 and raised mounds of ring particles so high in 2009 -- during Saturn's equinox when the ring plane pointed directly at the Sun -- that they cast notable shadows.
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An Active Night over the Magellan Telescopes
Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN); Music Credit & License: Airglow by Club 220
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170221.html

The night sky is always changing. Featured here are changes that occurred over a six hour period in late 2014 June behind the dual 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. The initial red glow on the horizon is airglow, a slight cooling of high air by the emission of specific colors of light. Bands of airglow are also visible throughout the time-lapse video. Early in the night, car headlights flash on the far left. Satellites quickly shoot past as they circle the Earth and reflect sunlight. A long and thin cloud passes slowly overhead. The Large Magellanic Cloud rises on the left, while the expansive central band of our Milky Way Galaxy arches and pivots as the Earth rotates. As the night progresses, the Magellan telescopes swivel and stare as they explore pre-determined patches of the night sky. Every night, every sky changes differently, even though the phenomena at play are usually the same.
2017 February 21

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Almost Three Tails for Comet Encke
Image Credit & Copyright: Fritz Helmut Hemmerich
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170220.html

How can a comet have three tails? Normally, a comet has two tails: an ion tail of charged particles emitted by the comet and pushed out by the wind from the Sun, and a dust tail of small debris that orbits behind the comet but is also pushed out, to some degree, by the solar wind. Frequently a comet will appear to have only one tail because the other tail is not easily visible from the Earth. In the featured unusual image, Comet 2P/Encke appears to have three tails because the ion tail split just near to the time when the image was taken. The complex solar wind is occasionally turbulent and sometimes creates unusual structure in an ion tail. On rare occasions even ion-tail disconnection events have been recorded. An image of the Comet Encke taken two days later gives a perhaps less perplexing perspective.
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Black Sun and Inverted Starfield
Image Credit & Copyright: Jim Lafferty
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170219.html

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