Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

Winter tree

Photo of the Week. Tree banches laden with winter's snow glorify a deep blue sky.

Astronomy news for the two-week period starting Friday, January 6, 2006.

Welcome to the first full Skylights' fortnight in 2006, with hopes for a good year to all. Skylights will resume its normal weekly schedule on Friday, January 20.

The week begins on Friday, January 6, with the first quarter Moon, which thereafter grows through its waxing gibbous phase until it reaches full the morning of Saturday the 14th (about the time of Moonset in North America), whereupon it wanes through gibbous toward its third quarter. The night of Saturday the 7th then finds the Moon just to the west of Mars, while the following night sees it to the east of the red planet. Then the night of Friday the 13th, the Moon will be nicely ensconced within northern Gemini with Castor and Pollux to the north of it. The Martian placements will next be repeated with Saturn, the Moon to the west of the ringed one the night of Saturday the 14th, to the east of it the following evening.

Venus, which has been with us since last spring, now takes leave of the evening sky. Very rapidly setting earlier in bright twilight, it passes inferior conjunction with the Sun (when it is between us and the Sun) on Friday the 13th (making no transit, as the planet passes to the north of the solar disk), the event coinciding almost exactly with full Moon. But no bad luck there, as the planet immediately switches over and begins to rise in the morning sky before the Sun. By the end of the month it will be nicely visible in growing twilight. In the evening before inferior conjunction and in the morning shortly after the event, Venus shows just a sliver of her daytime side, and appears as a thin crescent, even in binoculars. It is said that some can see the crescent with the naked eye.

We still have two evening planets to admire. Mars, in southern Aries, now transits the meridian high to the south around 7 PM, while Saturn, still in Cancer, rises in mid-twilight, making its meridian transit about 1 AM, a bit over an hour before Mars sets. But just before the red planet goes down, Jupiter (in Libra) comes up to dominate the heavens -- at least until Venus makes her mark in eastern dawn.

Look of course for Orion climbing the sky in early evening and dominating it for most of the night. To the north of the grand figure is the pentagon that makes Auriga, the Charioteer, who holds Capella, the sixth brightest star in the sky and the closest of first magnitude to the north celestial pole. To the west of Auriga and nearly overhead in early evening are the streams of stars that make Perseus, the hero of the Andromeda tale. The deep south has its own charms. From the mid-southern hemisphere, bright Achernar signals the end of the river Eridanus, which begins at Cursa just to the west of Orion's Rigel. Between it and the southern pole lies the large triangle made by the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma stars of "modern" Hydrus, the Water Snake, which appears roughly to fall between our two neighboring small galaxies, and Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
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