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 .

TT Cygni

Photo of the Week.. Star colors can be quite vivid, as displayed at the center by the Mira variable carbon star TT Cygni, a dying giant rich in carbon, which cuts out blue component of the starlight.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 23, 2004.

From night to night the Moon climbs the western sky in its waxing crescent phase, growing fatter each night as it approaches first quarter the night of Wednesday, January 28 to the south of classical Aries. The evening of Saturday the 24th will present a special sight when the Moon is seen to the south -- to the left as seen in the sky -- of brilliant Venus, which is now the fabled "evening star" that lights western twilight. Not to be outdone, fainter (but still bright) Mars finds itself to the north of the visiting Moon the night of Tuesday the 27th.

These two planets bracket the Earth, Venus incredibly hot and unlivable, Mars cold but inviting to exploration, as we know from watching the rover beginning its rounds. In between is our remarkable Earth, in just the right place to have a temperature that supports liquid oceans, without which life as we know it would be impossible. Was there life on Mars? There is no evidence for it, but as yet no one really knows. Venus now sets around 8:30 PM, Mars just before midnight. Watch as the two move toward each other for a rendezvous late next April and early May, not quite coming into formal conjunction before Venus makes a rapid descent to the west. As Venus sets, the giant of the Solar System, Jupiter, rises. And finally, to the east in early evening find the second biggest planet, Saturn , which now transits the meridian to the south around 10 PM.

As January draws to a close, the Sun begins more seriously to climb to the north as it makes the transition from Sagittarius into Capricornus. By the end of the month it will be 6 degrees farther north than the Winter Solstice, allowing us perhaps to get a hint of spring.

'Tis now that magnificent time for the winter constellations. By 9 PM, Orion (with brilliant reddish Betelgeuse and blue-white Rigel) hovers high to the south. To the north of the Hunter is a "cap" of brilliant constellations, Taurus with Aldebaran and its Pleiades and Hyades to the northwest, Auriga with Capella and her Kids directly north, and Gemini with Castor and Pollux (as well as Saturn) to the northeast. Respectively to the east and southeast bark his hunting dogs, Canis Minor (with Procyon) and Canis Major, the latter containing the visually brightest star of the sky, Sirius. If far enough south, in the far southern US and below, you might catch a glimpse of the second brightest star, Canopus, in Carina, the keel of Jason's ship, the Argo.
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