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!


Photo of the Week.. Flaming sunset.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, January 4, 2013.

The two-weekers must continue for a while. Thanks for your interest and patience. The next Skylights will appear January 18, 2013.

The Moon is busy this fortnight with phases and passages. Starting in its last quarter, the Moon spends the first week of our period waning in its crescent phase until it reaches new during the day on Friday, January 11. Morning people can see the Moon to the right of the star Spica before dawn on Saturday the 5th, while the following morning the Moon will make a flat triangle with Spica and Saturn (the planet to the left). Then on the mornings of Tuesday the 8th and Wednesday the 9th, the crescent invades Scorpius, the Moon first above Antares then to the left of it. Finally, on the morning of Thursday the 10th, those with a good eastern horizon can see the last-glimpse crescent just to the left of Venus. A day and a half before new Moon, our companion passes perigee, where it is closest to the Earth, which will bring especially high and low tides to the coasts.

During our second week, you might first catch the setting crescent during twilight the night of Saturday the 12th down and to the right of Mars, both quite difficult to see. The crescent grows until the Moon achieves first quarter on Friday the 18th, the previous evening it being a bit shy of the phase. Nearly invisible passages continue with the Moon going well north of Neptune on Monday the 14th and Uranus on Wednesday the 16th.

After terrific evening and morning appearances in 2012, Venus, rising in mid-twilight, is fading away, its evening visit in 2013 to be nowhere near as good. But Jupiter still lights the skies, the planet transiting high across the meridian in mid-evening just above Aldebaran and the Hyades, then dominating the western sky until a couple hours before dawn. Saturn then does middle-duty by rising around 2 AM in the middle of our period, the ringed planet not transiting until near sunrise. Speaking of which, you are about to get some relief from dark mornings. Because of the Earth's rotational tilt and orbital eccentricity, Friday the 4th marks the time of latest sunrise. The last of the planetary set, Mercury, goes through superior conjunction with the Sun as our period ends.

In late evening, look high, well above Orion (with his three-star Belt), north even of Jupiter, to find the sixth brightest star in the sky, Capella, the luminary of Auriga the Charioteer, recognizable by his prominent pentagon of stars. The most northerly of the first magnitude set, 46 degrees north of the celestial equator, Capella just beats out summer's Deneb (by under one degree) for the honor.
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