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From 14 to a Million: The Astronomical Growth of the Astronomy Picture of the Day

On June 16, 1995, Robert Nemiroff (MTU) and Jerry Bonnell (UMCP) posted the
first Astronomy Picture of the Day. The site received 14 page views that day.

The breathtaking beauty and didactic efforts of the APOD’s daily posts have earned it global renown, and the site now receives over one million page views each day.

From 14 to a million hits: Learn about the site first-hand from co-founder Robert Nemiroff in this telling Q&A, and don't forget to "Discover the cosmos!"

Q. How did you and Jerry first come up with the idea for APOD?

A. In 1995 Jerry and I shared an office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and were watching the web develop. We would contemplate how we could contribute and brainstormed several ideas. The Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) was one of those ideas. This idea played off an underlying concern that astronomy images were sometimes being circulated as email attachments without people knowing what was being pictured. It looked like the web might become a place of little information, in particular about astronomy images. Or worse -- misinformation. APOD was supposed to counter that -- to create a slightly more informed web where astronomy images, at the least, would be coupled with explanations so that people would know at least a little bit about the images being circulated.

Immediately after formulating this idea we did what most scientists do after considering a new effort -- we just went back to our normal scientific routine. But a few lunches later APOD still seemed like a good idea so we started it up. That was over 18 years ago -- so it appears that we forgot to stop.

APOD's post for April 22, 2013. If you had infrared vision, like Predator's monster or in this case the Hubble Space Telescope, this is show the Horsehead Nebula would appear. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Q. Was the site an immediate hit or did it take some time to gain popular appeal?

A. APOD had 14 page views on the first day -- and I'm not sure how they knew about us. We got a bump when we appeared on the daily "NCSA What's New" list a few weeks later, which was a big thing back then. Since then, like most pages, APOD has experienced a slow but exponential growth. But since we started so early, we have had a long time to grow. Some people now consider APOD to be the first science blog.

Q. On average, how many web views does APOD receive in a day? How does this compare with how many daily hits the site had ten and almost twenty years ago?

A. Currently the main NASA APOD site typically receives over one million page views each day. That does not include now over 20 other-language mirror sites and "new technology" mirror sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

Q. Have you ever had any particularly noteworthy experiences with APOD and the many people whose images and videos you post?

A. APOD has given Jerry and me a "secret superpower." Each of us, typically separately, can now go to many places in the world, announce that we would like to give an APOD lecture, and be welcomed at a local city science center to do just that. Our lectures are free but the experiences are priceless! At these venues we are also fortunate enough to actually meet up with local APOD-contributing astrophotographers.

For example, I recently have spoken at Cosmonova Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, and the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi, India. I was in each country to lecture at an unrelated science conference, but exercised this "secret superpower" to help bring global astronomy to local audiences.

Q. In your opinion, what are some of the most amusing, beautiful, bizarre or interesting posts APOD has ever exhibited?

A. Some interesting APODs include, in my opinion, pictures of new worlds never before seen, wide field panoramas that show sky detail too dim for the unaided eye to see -- but beautifully and fascinatingly intricate, and videos that show how dynamic the night sky really is. Many are also very educational.

On the left is a picture of the Ring Nebula (M57) posted on APOD June 5, 2013. On the right is the same nebula, albeit shifted clockwise by about thirty degrees, that APOD posted on January 7, 1999. Look closely at how the
2013 image resolved the dark flecks peaking into the blue haze, which is comprised of ionized helium.
Credit for the left image: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).
Credit for the right image: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)

Q. It is amazing to look back at some of APOD’s earliest posts and compare the resolution and detail of those grainier images with today’s sharper images. What has it been like to see that technological transition first-hand over the years?

A. If you had asked me back in 1995 whether images would eventually become better and crisper due to newer technologies, I would have said they would, but I could never have guessed the breathtaking leaps in both hardware and software that have occurred. The average APOD image today is so much larger, more detailed, and more artistic than the early APOD images.

Q. If I submitted an APOD-worthy image to you today, when might I expect to see it posted?

A. Unfortunately, APOD must now turn away about 10 new images for every one we are able to post, most being APOD-worthy. Some of these we are now posting to APOD-related pages on Facebook and Google Plus so they can gain at least a little of the desired and deserved exposure. Past that, if yours was a topical image, your highest chance of having it appear on APOD would be the very next day or the day after. If yours was a "classic" image unrelated to current events, perhaps it would take a few days before it appeared.

Q. What do you like most about APOD?

A. It is hard to isolate just one thing. I do enjoy, though, the challenge of trying to explain the images in a single short paragraph, trying to make it understandable, at least in part, by students from grade-school to professionals. I am not sure how effective I am, but at least I am trying to make the best astronomy images more accessible and understandable to everyone.

But there is a more personal aspect to APOD. Let's say you could arrange it so that, whenever anyone in the world takes a really cool astronomy picture, they send it to you. That's how lucky I feel sometimes. I didn't mean to set it up that way, but I feel very fortunate that that's just about how it has worked out.

Q. If possible, can you tell me which single person has the most images/videos posted on APOD? I imagine Stefano de Rosa is up there.

A. Yes, Stefano de Rosa is up there. Possibly the single most frequent astrophotographer featured on APOD is ... Robert Gendler. Also up there are Adam Block, and Babak Tafreshi, just to name two more. The Hubble Space Telescope is the most featured observatory. Still, some of our most amazing APODs are centered on images or videos taken by an amateur who just happened to be at the right place at the right time.


  1. Fascinating interview! Keep those photos coming, APOD. :)

  2. I found APOD on my daughter's first birthday, which happened to also be APOD's first birthday. Thank you, Robert and Jerry for creating, and for maintaining it!


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