I love NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, known to its friends as APOD. So to honour that Great website, which has been running for more than a decade, I here present my own personal top ten list of APODs. They may not be quite the same as anyone else Top Ten but they represent some of the best things about the APOD site as well as being some of the most impressive images.
10: Mars Then and Now
Two images of Mars taken over 100 years apart. The first was drawn by Eugene Antoniadi in 1894, the second is from Hubble during the close approach of Mars in 2003. Its interesting to see what they got right and what they got wrong. Notably the extensive system of Martian Canals, which Percival Lowell was so adamant existed and proved the presence of Martians.
9: The Surface of Europa
Back in January 1998, when this image appeared on APOD, the Galileo Mission was still sending back amazing new pictures from Jupiter and it’s Moons. This was around the time I first discovered APOD and have been checking it ever since.
8: Bubble vs Cloud
This 2005 APOD captured my imagination for some reason. You can really see a three-dimensional effect in this beautiful picture. The actual title of the image is ’ NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula’ but the phrase ‘Bubble vs Cloud’ stuck with me somehow. It just got me thinking about how dynamic all of these giant objects are, even if we will never see it for ourselves.
7: Close Up of the Face on Mars
After years of being told by people that there was a giant human face on Mars that an ancient civilisation had once created it was satisfying to see it for real and notice that ‘hey, there is no face’.
6: Binary Black Hole
This composite image shows the x-ray in blue and the radio in pink. You can see two black holes in the middle, which are each streaming out relativistic particles. These two objects are 300 million light years away! This APOD from April 2006 was the first time I had ‘seen’ a black hole in any convincing sense.
5: A Sun Pillar
One of the things APOD does best is show not only planets, nebulae and other distant objects, but also some cool, Earth-bound astronomical tit-bits. This Sun Pillar is created by ice crystals in the atmosphere. They are best seen during the colder months.
This is a Christmas Eve APOD from 2004. The site has never been afraid to put up historical pictures or to be a little poetic when it feels like it. This image was taken around ChristmasEve when the three Apollo 8 astronauts were orbiting the Moon. They returned safely on December 27th, in time to see the 1967 Sunrise back on the Earth.
Like a 250km sponge, Saturn’s Moon Hyperion is covered in odd craters and has a density so low that it has led researchers to assume it made up of vast deep caverns. This image shows the moon in excellent detail. The images on APOD have steadily improved with improving technology over the years and this amazing Hyperion picture is a great example.
2: Blue Lagoon
Sometimes you see a picture that just takes your breath away. This APOD was just such a picture. This wonderful Lagoon Nebula picture, which to me, looks like a painting, was not taken by Hubble as many might think but by a 20” telescope on Earth.
1: Venus Near the Moon
Not a grand finale in one sense, but a stunning picture never-the-less. What APOD has always done best are images like these, taken not by massive telescopes but by normal observers with affordable equipment. The stuff you can see with your eyes and appreciate instantly without explanation. This crisp, detailed image of Venus near the Moon sums up what so many of us like about astronomy, and why the subject remains accessible to just about anyone.
So thank you to Astronomy Picture of the Day for many years of service to the internet. May you long continue to wow us on a daily basis.
APOD is also available as a Google Homepage Gadget, a Netvibes Module, an Apple Dashboard Widget, a WordPress Widget, a Yahoo Widget, a Windows Vista Gadget , as a Twitter Feed and probably loads more.
If you have other APODs you think deserve attention, leave a link in the comments thread so we can all see.