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Astronomy Picture of the Day (APoD)
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At the Limit of Diffraction
Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution)

Did you ever want to just look through the eyepiece of a large telescope in space? If you could, you would see a sharp view that was diffraction limited. Unaffected by atmospheric blurring that ultimately plagues earthbound observers, the angular resolution of your diffraction limited view would be determined only by the wavelength of light and diameter of the telescope lens or mirror; the larger the diameter, the sharper the image. Still, in this working earth-based snapshot a new active adaptive optics system (MagAO) is being used to cancel out the atmospheric blurring in a visual observation of famous double star system Alpha Centauri. Testing the system at the eyepiece of the 6.5 meter diameter Magellan Clay Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, astronomer Laird Close is enjoying a historic diffraction limited view (inset) and the wide apparent separation of the close binary star system ... without traveling to low earth orbit.
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Gravitational Anomalies of Mercury
Image Credit: +NASA, GSFC's SVS, JHU's APL, Carnegie Inst. Washington

What's that under the surface of Mercury? The robotic MESSENGER spacecraft that had been orbiting planet Mercury for the past four years had been transmitting its data back to Earth with radio waves of very precise energy. The planet's gravity, however, slightly changed this energy when measured on Earth, which enabled the reconstruction of a gravity map of unprecedented precision. Here gravitational anomalies are shown in false-color, superposed on an image of the planet's cratered surface. Red hues indicate areas of slightly higher gravity, which in turn indicates areas that must have unusually dense matter under the surface. The central area is Caloris Basin, a huge impact feature measuring about 1,500 kilometers across. Last week, after completing its mission and running low on fuel, MESSENGER was purposely crashed onto Mercury's surface.
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Thanks, great job.
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M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh

Follow the handle of the Big Dipper away from the dipper's bowl until you get to the handle's last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you might find this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (right), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the angular boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the eye, deep images like this one can reveal striking colors and the faint tidal debris around the smaller galaxy
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Is Awesome. 
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Across the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Göran Strand

A long solar filament stretches across the relatively calm surface of the Sun in this telescopic snap shot from April 27. The negative or inverted narrowband image was made in the light of ionized hydrogen atoms. Seen at the upper left, the magnificent curtain of magnetized plasma towers above surface and actually reaches beyond the Sun's edge. How long is the solar filament? About as long as the distance from Earth to Moon, illustrated by the scale insert at the left. Tracking toward the right across the solar disk a day later the long filament erupted, lifting away from the Sun's surface. Monitored by Sun staring satellites, a coronal mass ejection was also blasted from the site but is expected to swing wide of our fair planet.
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Tek Nut, spot on though I'm not a hypocrite, and if you have not realized cool is spelled with a "c" and two "o's", well I'll just say that's sad. 
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Massive Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Image Credit: Hubble, Subaru; Composition & Copyright: Roberto Colombari

It is one of the more massive galaxies known. A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk. Dust lanes, small, pink star-forming regions, and young blue star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way and captured by this composite image merging exposures from the orbiting 2.4-meter Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.
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I see this picture I know that it's part of us
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Planetary Nebula Mz3: The Ant Nebula
Image Credit: R. Sahai (+NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) et al., Hubble Heritage Team, +European Space Agency, ESA, +NASA

Why isn't this ant a big sphere? Planetary nebula Mz3 is being cast off by a star similar to our Sun that is, surely, round. Why then would the gas that is streaming away create an ant-shaped nebula that is distinctly not round? Clues might include the high 1000-kilometer per second speed of the expelled gas, the light-year long length of the structure, and the magnetism of the star visible above at the nebula's center. One possible answer is that Mz3 is hiding a second, dimmer star that orbits close in to the bright star. A competing hypothesis holds that the central star's own spin and magnetic field are channeling the gas. Since the central star appears to be so similar to our own Sun, astronomers hope that increased understanding of the history of this giant space ant can provide useful insight into the likely future of our own Sun and Earth.
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Wow! bugs in deep space!
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Have them in circles
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Summer Triangles over Japan
Image Credit & Copyright: Shingo Takei (TWAN)

Have you ever seen the Summer Triangle? The bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair form a large triangle on the sky that can be seen rising in the early northern early spring during the morning and rising in the northern fall during the evening. During summer months, the triangle can be found nearly overhead near midnight. Featured here, the Summer Triangle asterism was captured last month from Gunma, Japan. In the foreground, sporting a triangular shape of its own, is a flowering 500 year old cherry tree, standing about 15 meters tall. The triangular shape of the asterism is only evident from the direction of Earth -- in actuality the stars are thousands of light years apart in space.
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Amazingly beautiful photo, thanks for sharing!!!
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An Unexpected Aurora over Norway
Image Credit & Copyright: Tommy Richardsen

Sometimes the sky lights up unexpectedly. A trip to northern Norway to photograph auroras was not going as well as hoped. It was now past midnight in Steinsvik, Troms, in northern Norway, and the date was 2014 February 8. Despite recent activity on the Sun, the skies were disappointing. Therefore, the astrophotographer began packing up to go. His brother began searching for a missing lens cap. When the sky suddenly exploded with spectacular aurora. Reacting quickly, a sequence detailing dramatic green curtains was captured, with the bright Moon near the image center, and the lens-cap seeking brother on the far right. The auroral flare lasted only a few minutes, but the memory of this event, the photographer speculates, will last much longer.
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Moonrise Through Mauna Kea's Shadow
Image Credit & Copyright: Michael Connelley (U. Hawaii)

How can the Moon rise through a mountain? It cannot -- what was photographed here is a moonrise through the shadow of a large volcano. The volcano is Mauna Kea, Hawai'i, USA, a frequent spot for spectacular photographs since it is arguably the premier observing location on planet Earth. The Sun has just set in the opposite direction, behind the camera. Additionally, the Moon has just passed full phase -- were it precisely at full phase it would rise, possibly eclipsed, at the very peak of the shadow. The Moon is actually rising in the triangular shadow cone of the volcano, a corridor of darkness that tapers off in the distance like converging train tracks. The Moon is too large and too far away to be affected by the shadow of the volcano. Refraction of moonlight through the Earth's atmosphere makes the Moon appear slightly oval. Cinder cones from old volcanic eruptions are visible in the foreground.
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MESSENGER's Last Day on Mercury
Image Credit: +NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ. APL, Arizona State Univ., CIW

The first to orbit Mercury, the MESSENGER spacecraft came to rest on this region of Mercury's surface yesterday. Constructed from MESSENGER image and laser altimeter data, the scene looks north over the northeastern rim of the broad, lava filled Shakespeare basin. The large, 48 kilometer (30 mile) wide crater Janacek is near the upper left edge. Terrain height is color coded with red regions about 3 kilometers above blue ones. MESSENGER'S final orbit was predicted to end near the center, with the spacecraft impacting the surface at nearly 4 kilometers per second (over 87,000 miles per hour) and creating a new crater about 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter. The impact on the far side of Mercury was not observed by telescopes, but confirmed when no signal was detected from the spacecraft given time to emerge from behind the planet. Launched in 2004, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemisty and Ranging spacecraft completed over 4,000 orbits after reaching the Solar System's innermost planet in 2011.
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V Hanes
+Arturo Gutierrez I aim to amuse!
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Comet Churyumov Gerasimenko in Crescent
Image Credit: +European Space Agency, ESA, Rosetta, NAVCAM; processing by Giuseppe Conzo

What's happening to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko? As the 3-km wide comet moves closer to the Sun, heat causes the nucleus to expel gas and dust. The Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet's craggily double nucleus last July and now is co-orbiting the Sun with the giant dark iceberg. Recent analysis of data beamed back to Earth from the robotic Rosetta spacecraft has shown that water being expelled by 67P has a significant difference with water on Earth, indicating that Earth's water could not have originated from ancient collisions with comets like 67P. Additionally, neither Rosetta nor its Philae lander detected a magnetic field around the comet nucleus, indicating that magnetism might have been unimportant in the evolution of the early Solar System. Comet 67P, shown in a crescent phase in false color, should increase its evaporation rate as it nears its closest approach to the Sun in 2015 August, when it reaches a Sun distance just a bit further out than the Earth.
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hey, alex  ian & pat how about that Rosetta?
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Space Station over Lunar Terminator
Image Credit & Copyright: Dani Caxete

What's that in front of the Moon? It's the International Space Station. Using precise timing, the Earth-orbiting space platform was photographed in front of a partially lit Moon last year. The featured image was taken from Madrid, Spain with an exposure time of only 1/1000 of a second. In contrast, the duration of the transit of the ISS across the entire Moon was about half a second. The sun-glinting station can be seen just to the dark side of the day / night line known as the terminator. Numerous circular craters are visible on the distant Moon, as well as comparatively rough, light colored terrain known as highlands, and relatively smooth, dark colored areas known as maria. On-line tools can tell you when the International Space Station will be visible from your area.
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+Dennis Costea Jr.  I have seen the ISS at night. It's plenty of light.
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Discover the cosmos!
Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.