NASA's image of the day is a reflection of stars, planets and galaxies in the world's largest natural mirror

The salt pan goes on for 10,582 square kilometres and was first part of a large prehistoric lake.

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is a reflection of the Milky Way on what might be the largest natural mirror.

The image was clicked by Peruvian photographer Jheison Huerta on the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia. The picture is composed of 15 vertical frames taken consecutively over ten minutes, and was captured in April after a shower.

What can be seen in the picture?

NASA points out a few celestial bodies that are visible in the picture. They are the Milky Way and its satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), and a few bright stars like Antares and Sirius. Jupiter, the fifth and largest planet in our solar system is also visible in the image.

The NASA image of the milky way, LMC and Jupiter. Image credit: Jheison Huerta

The NASA image of the milky way, LMC and Jupiter. Image credit: Jheison Huerta

The LMC is 1,58,200 light-years away from the Earth and is bound in its orbit to the Milky Way. It is much smaller, with about 3,000 crores of star as compared to the Milky Way’s 25,000 crores of stars.

The Antares is a star that is part of the Scorpius constellation, which has a distinct reddish hue.

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and it derives its name from the Greek word Seirios which means ‘glowing’ or 'scorching’. It is also called the Dog star which inspired the eponymous character in J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It is part of the Canis Major constellation.

The salt pans

The Salar de Uyuni is a natural forming, flat salt pan that goes on for 10,582 square kilometres and is located in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí, Bolivia. Around 30,000-40,000 years ago, the salt pan was part of a huge prehistoric lake that dried out. Over a period of time, it transformed into this salt flat that was harvested by the locals.

The top crust of this land is a solid salt crust that is saturated with a brine solution that is made up of sodium chloride, lithium chloride, and magnesium chloride, along with water. It is also the largest lithium deposit in the world. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that this salt pan contains 5400 million kgs of lithium.

In the centre of the pans are islands that are actually the tops of ancient volcanoes. The islands have fragile coral-like structures and deposits that often consist of fossils and algae.

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