Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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


Photo of the Week.. Another view of the northern lights display of November 7, 2004 reveals beautiful contrasting colors.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 7, 2005.

The Moon fades in its waning crescent phase early in the week, passing new on Monday, January 10th, just as the Sun rises in the southeast. Look for the thin waxing crescent in the southwest the night of Tuesday the 11th in twilight just after sundown. Only two hours before "new," the Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to the Earth. That combination coupled with our recent closest passage with the Sun (perihelion) on New Year's Day will make for some of the highest ocean tides of the year.

The morning of Saturday the 8th, the waning crescent will present a fine -- though somewhat difficult -- sight directly to the right of close-knit Venus and Mercury, the three visible just above the southeastern horizon in morning twilight. Up and to the right is Antares of Scorpius. Later in the week, the waxing crescent passes south of Neptune in Capricornus the evening of Tuesday the 11th and south of Uranus in Aquarius the following night.

Last December 29, Mercury and Venus passed conjunction with each other, and only a bit over two weeks later, on Thursday the 13th, they do it again (separated by but a third of a degree), Venus once again resuming its position to the west of its smaller neighbor. At that moment, the ancient planets once again also resume their natural outward progression from the Sun, first Mercury and Venus, followed by Mars (above Antares), Jupiter (to the south at dawn, and now rising before midnight), and Saturn (in Gemini). You can also add Uranus and Neptune to the ordered list. Saturn, which has been encroaching steadily on the evening sky, passes opposition with the Sun on Thursday the 13th, when it rises at sundown, crosses the meridian to the south at midnight (as Jupiter rises), and sets at sunrise. At that moment it will also have its greatest retrograde angular speed (westerly relative to the background stars).

Try catching Comet Machholz as it passes by the Pleiades in Taurus early in the week on its way north. Binoculars will help.

Orion remains the night sky's commanding figure, crossing the meridian to the south shortly before midnight. Surrounding it are some of the sky's most beloved constellations: Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, Canis Minor, Canis Major. But fainter ones are there for your enjoyment as well. To the east of the Hunter is a large patch of fainter stars that represent modern Monoceros, the Unicorn. Below him is the boxlike ancient figure of Lepus, the Hare. Farther down yet, reaching closer to the southern horizon, is a fairly prominent flat triangle that marks the flight of Columba, the Dove. Way WAY down, visible only from the far southern US and points south, is Pictor, the Easel, which lies directly west of the sky's second brightest star, Canopus.
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