A mere 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is the closest active galaxy to planet Earth. Also known as NGC 5128, the peculiar elliptical galaxy is over 60,000 light-years across. A region spanning about 8,500 light-years, including the galaxy's center (upper left), is framed in this sharp Hubble Space telescope close-up. Centaurus A is apparently the result of a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies resulting in a violent jumble of star forming regions, massive star clusters, and imposing dark dust lanes. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process likely generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.

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Ceiling of the Church of Elijah the Prophet in Yaroslavl, Russia

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Notgeld banknote, issued by the city of Cologne, 1922, depicting two members of the carnival guard Rote Funken in the uniforms of city soldiers from Cologne who are performing the traditional dance "Stippeföttche". Signed by Lord Mayor Konrad Adenauer, later the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Why does this galaxy spin so fast? To start, even identifying which type of galaxy UGC 12591 is difficult -- featured on the lower left, it has dark dust lanes like a spiral galaxy but a large diffuse bulge of stars like a lenticular. Surprisingly observations show that UGC 12591 spins at about 480 km/sec, almost twice as fast as our Milky Way, and the fastest rotation rate yet measured. The mass needed to hold together a galaxy spinning this fast is several times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. Progenitor scenarios for UGC 12591 include slow growth by accreting ambient matter, or rapid growth through a recent galaxy collision or collisions -- future observations may tell. The light we see today from UGC 12591 left about 400 million years ago, when trees were first developing on Earth.

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Do you recognize this constellation? Setting past the Central Bohemian Highlands in the Czech Republic is Orion, one of the most identifiable star groupings on the sky and an icon familiar to humanity for over 30,000 years. Orion has looked pretty much the same during this time and should continue to look the same for many thousands of years into the future. Prominent Orion is high in the sky at sunset this time of year, a recurring sign of (modern) winter in Earth's northern hemisphere and summer in the south. The featured picture is a composite of over thirty images taken from the same location and during the same night last month. Below and slightly to the left of Orion's three-star belt is the Orion Nebula, while four of the bright stars surrounding the belt are, clockwise, Sirius (far left, blue), Betelgeuse (top, orange, unusually faint), Aldebaran (far right), and Rigel (below). As future weeks progress, Orion will set increasingly earlier.

Infinite Random Loop: Create an APOD Station in your classroom or Science Center.

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Exemplar of a juvenile marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) lying on a rock in the coast of Lobos Island, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

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NGC 6302 or Nebuloasa Fluturele / Insecta

To some, this huge nebula resembles a person's head surrounded by a parka hood. In 1787, astronomer William Herschel discovered this unusual planetary nebula: NGC 2392. More recently, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the nebula in visible light, while the nebula was also imaged in X-rays by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The featured combined visible-X ray image, shows X-rays emitted by central hot gas in pink. The nebula displays gas clouds so complex they are not fully understood. NGC 2392 is a double-shelled planetary nebula, with the more distant gas having composed the outer layers of a Sun-like star only 10,000 years ago. The outer shell contains unusual light-year long orange filaments. The inner filaments visible are being ejected by strong wind of particles from the central star. The NGC 2392 Nebula spans about 1/3 of a light year and lies in our Milky Way Galaxy, about 3,000 light years distant, toward the constellation of the Twins (Gemini).

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View from the Castle to the Old Town of Znojmo, Czech Republic

A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic close-up reveals remarkable details of the region's central glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds in a field of view nearly 20 light-years across. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic and violently variable Eta Carinae, a star system with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. In the processed composite of space and ground-based image data a dusty, two-lobed Homunculus Nebula appears to surround Eta Carinae itself just below and left of center. While Eta Carinae is likely on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

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Game reserve at sunrise in Dülmen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

On Valentine's Day in 1990, cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back one last time to make the first ever Solar System family portrait. The portrait consists of the Sun and six planets in a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. Planet Earth was captured within a single pixel in this single frame. It's the pale blue dot within the sunbeam just right of center in this reprocessed version of the now famous view from Voyager. Astronomer Carl Sagan originated the idea of using Voyager's camera to look back toward home from a distant perspective. Thirty years later, on this Valentine's day, look again at the pale blue dot.

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The Trifid Nebula, also known as Messier 20, is easy to find with a small telescope. About 30 light-years across and 5,500 light-years distant it's a popular stop for cosmic tourists in the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. As its name suggests, visible light pictures show the nebula divided into three parts by dark, obscuring dust lanes. But this penetrating infrared image reveals the Trifid's filaments of glowing dust clouds and newborn stars. The spectacular false-color view is courtesy of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Astronomers have used the infrared image data to count newborn and embryonic stars which otherwise can lie hidden in the natal dust and gas clouds of this intriguing stellar nursery. Launched in 2003, Spitzer explored the infrared Universe from an Earth-trailing solar orbit until its science operations were brought to a close earlier this year, on January 30.

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The so-called Schwanenstein, a glacial erratic near the village of Lohme on the island of Rügen, Germany. On 13 February 1956, three boys from the village of Lohme were playing by the shore of the frozen sea. The weather changed suddenly, and a storm broke the ice. The boys saved themselves by climbing onto the stone. As the wind turned into a hurricane, local fishermen and border guards tried to save the boys but they failed as the storm was too heavy. The next morning when the weather had calmed, the bodies of the three boys were recovered from the stone.

What divides the north from the south? It all has to do with the spin of the Earth. On Earth's surface, the equator is the dividing line, but on Earth's sky, the dividing line is the Celestial Equator -- the equator's projection onto the sky.  You likely can't see the Earth's equator around you, but anyone with a clear night sky can find the Celestial Equator by watching stars move.  Just locate the dividing line between stars that arc north and stars that arc south. Were you on Earth's equator, the Celestial Equator would go straight up and down.  In general, the angle between the Celestial Equator and the vertical is your latitude.  The featured image combines 325 photos taken every 30 seconds over 162 minutes. Taken soon after sunset earlier this month, moonlight illuminates a snowy and desolate scene in northwest Iran. The bright streak behind the lone tree is the planet Venus setting.

Almost Hyperspace: Random APOD Generator

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Golestan Palace is the former royal Qajar complex in Iran's capital city, Tehran. The UNESCO World Heritage Site belongs to a group of royal buildings that were once enclosed within the mud-thatched walls of Tehran's arg ("citadel") and is one of the oldest of the historic monuments in the city.

How does weather on the Sun affect humanity? To help find out, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have just launched the Solar Orbiter. This Sun-circling robotic spaceship will monitor the Sun's changing light, solar wind, and magnetic field not only from the usual perspective of Earth but also from above and below the Sun. Pictured, a long duration exposure of the launch of the Solar Orbiter shows the graceful arc of the bright engines of United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket as they lifted the satellite off the Earth. Over the next few years, the Solar Orbiter will use the gravity of Earth and Venus to veer out of the plane of the planets and closer to the Sun than Mercury. Violent weather on the Sun, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections, has shown the ability to interfere with power grids on the Earth and communications satellites in Earth orbit. The Solar Orbiter is expected to coordinate observations with the also Sun-orbiting Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018.

Solar Orbiter to Space: Watch the Launch

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Ahuriri River before sunrise, Canterbury, New Zealand