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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What created this unusual hole in Mars? The hole was discovered by chance in 2011 on images of the dusty slopes of Mars' Pavonis Mons volcano taken by the HiRISE instrument aboard the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently circling Mars. The hole, shown in representative color, appears to be an opening to an underground cavern, partly illuminated on the image right. Analysis of this and follow-up images revealed the opening to be about 35 meters across, while the interior shadow angle indicates that the underlying cavern is roughly 20 meters deep. Why there is a circular crater surrounding this hole remains a topic of speculation, as is the full extent of the underlying cavern. Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life. These pits are therefore prime targets for possible future spacecraft, robots, and even human interplanetary explorers.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

After wandering about as far from the Sun on the sky as Venus can get, the brilliant evening star is crossing paths with the sister stars of the Pleiades cluster. Look west after sunset and you can share the ongoing conjunction with skygazers around the world. Taken on April 2, this celestial group photo captures the view from Portal, Arizona, USA. Even bright naked-eye Pleiades stars prove to be much fainter than Venus though. Apparent in deeper telescopic images, the cluster's dusty surroundings and familiar bluish reflection nebulae aren't quite visible, while brighter Venus itself is almost overwhelming in the single exposure. And while Venus and the Sisters do look a little star-crossed, their spiky appearance is the diffraction pattern caused by multiple leaves in the aperture of the telephoto lens. The last similar conjunction of Venus and Pleiades occurred nearly 8 years ago.

Photo by Fred Espenak

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

There's a traffic jam in Taurus lately. On April 1, this celestial frame from slightly hazy skies over Tapiobicske, Hungary recorded an impressive pile up toward the zodiacal constellation of the Bull and the Solar System's ecliptic plane. Streaking right to left the International Space Station speeds across the bottom of the telescopic field of view. Wandering about as far from the Sun in planet Earth's skies as it can get, inner planet Venus is bright and approaching much slower, overexposed at the right. Bystanding at the upper left are the sister stars of the Pleiades. No one has been injured in the close encounter though, because it really isn't very close. Continuously occupied since November 2000, the space station orbits some 400 kilometers above the planet's surface. Venus, currently the brilliant evening star, is almost 2/3 of an astronomical unit away. A more permanent resident of Taurus, the Pleiades star cluster is 400 light-years distant.

Photo by Lionel Majzik

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Venus is currently the brilliant evening star. Shared around world, in tonight's sky Venus will begin to wander across the face of the lovely Pleiades star cluster. This digital sky map illustrates the path of the inner planet as the beautiful conjunction evolves, showing its position on the sky over the next few days. The field of view shown is appropriate for binocular equipped skygazers but the star cluster and planet are easily seen with the naked-eye. As viewed from our fair planet, Venus passed in front of the stars of the Seven Sisters 8 years ago, and will again 8 years hence. In fact, orbiting the Sun 13 Venus years are almost equal to 8 years on planet Earth. So we can expect our sister planet to visit nearly the same place in our sky every 8 years.

Photo by Fred Espenak

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