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Yossef Benharosh is an apt web developer and the author of the eBook The essentials of object oriented PHP.

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Download NASA's astronomy picture of the day and set as background on a Linux machine

NASA provides astonishing astronomy pictures on a daily basis. You can see for yourself in their archive Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Another example, is this stunning picture from the 31th of July 2020:

NASA astronomy picutre 31th of july 2020

I wanted to set these pictures as the background for my Linux computer and also to update the display on a daily basis. I also wanted the computer to do the boring stuff for me.

The solution that I came up with is a short Bash script that downloads the daily picture from NASA's API as well as running the script with the crontab utility on my computer.

Here I share my way of making the task work.

This page has 4 parts:

  1. The API
  2. The script
  3. How to use the script
  4. Disclaimer


1. The API

The script downloads the daily pictures from NASA's API. The data returned is in a JSON format. From which we will extract the URL of the image that we are going to copy to a folder on our Linux system.

NASA's API is free. To consume it you need to register at: https://api.nasa.gov were you'll find a unique identifier, app id, which identifies the app to the service provider. The app id that you'll get is going to be similar to this one:

  • Don't use the above id since it's only for demonstration purposes.


2. The script

The script has 3 parts:

  1. A reference to the API.
  2. Turning the returned JSON into data that Python can use.
  3. Copying the image to a directory on your PC.
  4. In case of not getting an image the script will take a random image from the directory.





# Make directory if it does not exist
mkdir -p "$IMG_DIR"

# Get today's date
TODAY=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d")


write_in_log() {
    local message="$1"
    local urgency="${2:-normal}"
    log_record="$(date '+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S') - $urgency - $message"

    echo "$log_record">> "$LOG_FILE"
    echo "$log_record"

# Function to set wallpaper
set_wallpaper () {
    local pic=$1

    if test -f "$pic"; then
        rtpid=$(pgrep --euid $REAL_USER_ID gnome-session)
        if [ -z "$rtpid" ]; then
            message="No gnome-session process found for the current user."
            write_in_log "$message" "critical"
            return 0
        export DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS=unix:path=/run/user/1000/bus
        if [ -z "$DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS" ]; then
            message="Failed to get D-Bus session address."
            write_in_log "$message" "critical"
            return 0
        gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background picture-uri "file://$pic"
        message="Wallpaper set to $pic"
        write_in_log "$message" "normal"
        return 1
        message="Error: File $pic not found."
        write_in_log "$message" "critical"
        return 0

# Function to find a random image from the directory
find_other () {
    find "$IMG_DIR" -type f | shuf -n 1

# Path for today's image

# Fetch NASA APOD data
res=$(curl -s "$API_URL")

# Extract media type
res_type=$(echo "$res" | jq -r '.media_type')

if [ "$res_type" == "image" ]; then
    # Extract image URL
    res_url=$(echo "$res" | jq -r '.url')
    # Download the image
    curl -s -o "$pic" "$res_url"
    # Set wallpaper
    set_wallpaper "$pic"
    # If setting wallpaper fails, set a random wallpaper
    if [[ $? != 1 ]]; then
        set_wallpaper "$pic"
    # If the media type is not an image, set a random wallpaper
    set_wallpaper "$pic"


3. How to use the script

In order to use the script you need to:

  • Copy the script to bash script on you PC.

  • Inside the script, change the directory name and the API id.

  • Set a directory for the images.

  • Run chmod +x on the script to make it executable.

  • Set the crontab utility on your Linux to run daily.

    To edit crontab run the command crontab -e inside the terminal and inside the file that opens write the following command:

    0 9 * * * bash /home/my_user/bash_scripts/nasa_daily.sh

    I set mine to run daily at 9 am. Make the necessary adjustments.


4. Disclaimer

As far as I know, the script within this page is functional and harmless. However I make no guarantees. I also take no responsibility for any damage you may do when using the script (the chances of any problems occuring are slim but who knows). Please use this script responsibly and judgementally.