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 .

Sundog with Sun pillars

Photo of the Week.. Seen through an aircraft window, upper and lower Sun pillars (caused by reflection from ice crystals) pierce the Sun like a knitting needle, while a sundog to the left (caused by refraction through the crstals) watches the action.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 24, 2003.

The Moon starts off the week in its third quarter, at the point where it has gone 270 degrees around the sky from the Sun, the phase reached the morning of Saturday, January 25th, then spends the rest of the week in its waning crescent phase as it heads towards new on Saturday, February 1. On the morning of Monday the 27th, the Moon will be seen to the west of Mars, and will pass just to the south of it during daylight hours (and will actually occult it for people living in the South Pacific). The morning of Tuesday the 28th then finds the Moon passing four degrees to the south of brilliant Venus, which, except for the Moon itself, quite dominates the southeastern dawn sky. The Moon then heads for Mercury, and the morning of Wednesday the 29th will be found to the right and just up from the little planet, which will be hovering above the horizon in bright twilight.

Venus so overwhelms the morning starry sky that it is hard to pay attention to anything else. But take a good look at Mars, to the west of Venus, as it passes due north of Scorpius. The morning of Friday, January 31, Mars will pass five degrees north of its famous namesake, Antares, with which it is occasionally confused. (The name "Antares" means "like," or "rival of," Mars; "Ares" is the Greek name for Roman "Mars".) It's a fine time to compare the two. Mars is still so far away from us that it has only recently passed over to first magnitude, and is still fainter than Antares.

The planets are now nicely distributed about the sky, and the evening fares equally well. By 9 PM or so, Saturn stands high in the sky moving retrograde through eastern Taurus and northwest of Zeta Tauri, while Jupiter is high in the east, but in eastern Cancer, retrograding in the direction toward the Beehive Cluster. Still shy of opposition to the Sun, Jupiter rises just after sunset, and in the dark hour just before dawn is still visible in the west, allowing a fine comparison with much brighter Venus. In between them all and invisible, Neptune is in conjunction with the Sun on Thursday, the 30th.

The evening stars now center on brilliant Orion with his three-star belt and nebulous sword. Down and to the left is the brightest star of the sky, Sirius, which twinkles madly in crisp northern winter air. To the right winds the fainter River Eridanus. Below the Hunter rides a stack of much fainter constellations that disappear below the horizon for northern observers. Boxy Lepus (the Hare), just beneath Orion, is easy to find, as is triangular Columba (the Dove) just below Lepus. Down and to the right of Columba are two of the sky's most obscure figures, the modern constellations of Caelum (the Graving Tool) and Horologium (the Clock), the latter running nearly parallel to southern Eridanus. Farther down are Pictor, the Easel, and brighter Dorado, the Swordfish, which contains one of our companion galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud. All these require the observer to be well south, indeed, not far north of the equator, to see well.

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