Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured nine times on Earth Science Picture of the Day: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 -- Full List Restored!

Greenland 11

Photo of the Week. The second of twelve in the "Flight across Greenland," going from east to west across the fantastic glacier. See full resolution.

Astronomy news for the three weeks starting Friday, January 3 2014.

The next Skylights will appear Friday, January 24. Thanks for your patience.

Welcome to 2014. Over our triple week, the Moon goes through three quarters of its phase cycle, beginning with a western evening crescent that waxes to first quarter the night of Tuesday, January 7. We then watch the gibbous Moon wax to full the night of Wednesday the 15th, the phase hitting around midnight in North America (just a day past apogee, where it is farthest from Earth). The waning gibbous phase then takes over until third quarter the night of Thursday the 23rd around the time of Moonrise. The night of Monday the 13th finds the bright Moon to the west of Jupiter, while the night of Tuesday the 14th, the Moon will glide five degrees south of the planet. The following evening Jupiter will rise ahead of the Moon. The night of Wednesday the 22nd, the Moon then passes four degrees south of Mars.

Venus and Jupiter oppose each other. Venus, which has been with us in the evening over most of 2013, disappears completely as it passes inferior conjunction (more or less between us and the Sun) on Saturday the 11th. But hold on, as the brilliant second planet from the Sun quickly pops up in the eastern morning sky, at the end of our triplex rising near the beginning of dawn. Jupiter, on the other hand, does the reverse, as it passes opposition to the Sun on Saturday the 5th. In full retrograde motion (to the west against the stars), it will rise at sundown, cross the meridian high to the south at local midnight (in Gemini to the south of Castor and Pollux), and set at sunrise. Shortly after Jupiter transits the meridian, look to find Mars rising in the east against the stars of Virgo. Beginning to the northwest of Spica, it will pass to the north of the star toward the end of the month. Then around 3 AM (earlier as the month progresses), Saturn rises in the southeast in Libra.

Earth passes perihelion with the Sun (1.7 percent closer than average) on Saturday the 4th. Obviously the solar distance has little to do with the seasons, which are caused by the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's rotation axis against its orbital axis. The tilt also factors into the latest sunrise taking place not at winter solstice passage, but on Tuesday the 7th. In the early morning of Friday the 3rd, you might catch the peak of the fine Quadrantid meteor shower, which seems to come out of the defunct constellation of Quadrans (the Quadrant) near the handle of the Big Dipper. It's one of the best of the year and there is no Moonlight. The Quadrantids are the debris of the asteroid (or dead comet) 2003 EH1, which orbits the Sun every 5.52 years.

The stars of winter are now in full bloom. Orion hunts high in mid evening, surrounded by his great grouping that includes Canis Minor with Procyon to the east and Canis Major with Sirius to the southeast. If you long for the stars of summer, look for Vega and Deneb preparing to swing far below Polaris.
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