Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured six times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6

Waning Gibbous

Photo of the Week. The waning gibbous Moon shows its circular, dark, lava-filled impact basins, the craters along the terminator (the day-night division) casting shadows that make them very visible. Mare Imbrium is to the upper left. The "rays" centered on the young crater Tycho (toward the bottom) are splash marks caused by rocks ejected from the impact that made it.

Astronomy news for the two-week period starting Friday, January 4, 2008.

Welcome to the New Year. The next Skylights will appear on Friday, January 18.

We start Skylights' New Year with the Moon in the waning crescent phase, as it heads towards new on Tuesday, January 8, about the time of sunrise in North America. Watch as the slimming crescent plows down through Scorpius the mornings of Friday the 4th and Saturday the 5th. The morning of the 4th it will be to the right of Venus with Scorpius's head between the two, while on the 5th it will be close to Antares and below the bright planet. You can still follow it until the last glimpse on the morning of Monday the 7th. On the other side of the sky, the Moon will first appear as a thin waxing crescent the evening of Wednesday the 9th, the crescent growing until the Moon passes first quarter on Tuesday the 15th, after which it waxes in the gibbous. On Thursday the 10th, it passes just south of Neptune, while two days later goes to the north of Uranus. Then look the night of Thursday the 17th to see the Moon just shy of the Pleaides in Taurus.

The morning's show still belongs to Venus, which in the middle of our fortnight rises shortly before 5 AM. On Sunday the 6th, the bright planet passes six degrees to the north of Antares, the closeness making the color contrast quite noticeable. The evening, on the other hand, belongs to Mars, which, in retrograde (backward, or western) motion, has now entered northeastern Taurus. Crossing the meridian high to the south (the planet 3.5 degrees north of the ecliptic) around 10:30 PM, it will have moved well into the west by the time Venus rises, the Earth now pretty much in between the two. In the middle is good old Saturn, which (in Leo) comes up above the eastern horizon around 9 PM and crosses the meridian about 3 AM.

That leaves Mercury, which is beginning to make a small show in the southeast in twilight, and Jupiter, which does not rise until about midway through morning's dawn. Mercury is a particularly "hot topic," as Mercury Messenger will make its first rendezvous with the little planet on January 14. With Venus sinking lower each morning and Jupiter rising higher, the two are heading for a fine conjunction the morning of February 1.

With Cassiopeia starting to ride down the northwestern skies, look for Ursa Major's Big Dipper beginning to climb in the northeast. By the time of Venus's rising, the famed figure is nearly overhead for those in middle latitudes.
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