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

Winter Rose

Photo of the Week. In the heart of Winter.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 23, 2009.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule.

The morning hours just before and within dawn feature a thin waning crescent Moon that is heading for new Moon on Monday, January 26. On that date the Moon will cross in front of the Sun, eclipsing it. But don't bother looking from North America, as the eclipse will be visible only in the eastern hemisphere, almost all of the path running across the Indian Ocean. Nor will it be very interesting, as it is of the "annular" variety, wherein the Moon, having just passed apogee, cannot completely cover the solar surface, leaving at best a ring of sunlight. The famed solar corona will not be visible.

After new, the Moon will then climb above the western twilight horizon as a waxing crescent, the first glimpse of it being on the evening of Tuesday the 27th. The night of Thursday the 29th, look for the classic pairing of the Moon with Venus, the planet appearing up and to the left of the Moon. By the following night, the Moon will have shifted to the other side of Venus, appearing above it. The night of the 29th also finds the Moon to the north of much fainter Uranus.

Getting brighter every night (as it will until mid-February), Venus rules the early evening sky, the bright planet not setting until 9 PM. It passes conjunction with Uranus on Friday the 23rd, the bright planet 1.4 degrees to the north of the far fainter one. For some time now, Jupiter has been lost to twilight, and it finally passes conjunction with the Sun the same night. It thereafter becomes a morning planet, though it will not be readily visible until the approach of spring. But we are never now planetless. Just before Venus sets, Saturn rises. Slowly moving westerly through southeastern Leo, the ringed planet crosses the meridian to the south around 3 AM.

January belongs of course to Orion, the striking seven-star pattern high to the south around 9 PM. The Hunter's hot blue-white stars, lead by Rigel to the lower right of the obvious three-star Belt, contrast sharply with the reddish color of supergiant Betelgeuse to the upper left of the trio. Above and to the right of Orion is Taurus (the Bull) marked by orange Aldebaran, while above and to the left is Gemini, clearly indicated by bright close-together Castor and Pollux. And above these flies Auriga, the Charioteer, marked by bright Capella. Following Orion in his progression across the sky are his two dogs, Canis Major and Minor, Canis Major made unmistakable by Sirius, the brightest star of the sky as seen from Earth
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