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!

full Moon corona

Photo of the Week. A diffraction corona, caused by the mutual interference of light waves as they pass through light clouds and dramatically highlighted by thicker ones, surrounds the full Moon. See the corona around the crescent.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, January 16, 2015.

Back to fortnights for a bit: thanks for your patience. The next skylights will appear January 30, 2016.

We start with the Moon late in its waning crescent phase, which ends at new Moon on the morning of Tuesday, January 20. The morning of Saturday the 17th, the rising crescent will appear well to the left of Antares in Scorpius and down and to the left of Saturn. From new Moon we look to evening western twilight to see the waxing crescent climb toward first quarter, which takes place on the night of Monday the 26th around the time of moonset in North America. It then enters the waxing gibbous phase as it plows toward full Moon on February 3. The night of Wednesday the 21st the Moon passes well north of Venus, then the next night north of Mars. After the quarter, the Moon invades Taurus. The night of Wednesday the 28th, find it to the west of the Hyades and Aldebaran and to the south of the Pleiades. The following evening it will switch to the other side of the bright orange star. The Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to Earth, on Wednesday the 21st.

In the west, Venus is getting ever higher, and as our fortnight opens sets just after the end of evening twilight. It will make a glorious sight this spring and early summer. Early in our extended period, Venus hovers near fainter Mercury, the little planet quickly disappearing then passing inferior conjunction with the Sun on Friday the 30th. The show really belongs to Jupiter, which rises (still in western Leo to the west of Regulus) about as Venus sets and twilight ends, and is with us all night, crossing the meridian high to the south shortly past midnight. Not long after (about 3:30 AM at the start of our session, 2:30 AM at the end) we get to see Jupiter's brother planet Saturn loft itself over the southeastern horizon just off the tip of the head of Scorpius and nicely above Antares. Back in the west, Mars, now deep in Aquarius approaching Pisces, reliably sets at 8 PM. On Monday the 19th, the red planet will pass a mere two-tenths of a degree south of much fainter Neptune, making for a fine telescopic event.

With good fortune, if it's bright enough, you might get to see Comet Lovejoy as it climbs west of Taurus and the Pleiades then southwest of Perseus, between it and Triangulum (the Triangle). Lovejoy is clearly a drop-in from the distant Oort Cloud of icy comets that were ejected by the giant planets during the formation of the solar system. As such it is pretty unpredictable. If you can't see it, try scanning around with binoculars.

Perseus and Auriga stand high nearly overhead in mid evening, the two making a nifty triangle with Taurus to the south, and Orion even farther below, the winter skies filling with brilliant stars. Fainter, Eridanus, the River, winds to the southwest of Orion then for northerners below the horizon where it ends in beautiful bluish Achernar.

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