Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured five times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5


Photo of the Week. A spectacular convecting anvilled cloud breeds a thunderstorm below.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 27, 2006.

This is the week of the new Moon, the resulting darkened sky rendering the stars at greatest visibility. We begin with the Moon in a nearly invisible thin waning crescent state. After passing new on Sunday January 29th, the Moon will enter its waxing crescent phase. Watch for the ultra-thin crescent in western evening twilight the night of Monday the 30th, and then admire its growth on successive nights, the nighttime side glowing with earthlight. Less than a day after new, the Moon passes through perigee, where it is closest to the Earth along its rather elliptical orbit (which takes it 5.5 percent closer to, then the same farther from, the average distance of 384,400 kilometers, 238,900 miles). While the Moon therefore continuously slightly changes its angular size, the effect is too small to be visible to the eye. Invisible also is the Moon's passage just south of Uranus on Tuesday the 31st.

The planetary week really begins with Saturn in opposition to the Sun on Friday the 27th, the ringed planet firmly in Cancer just barely south of the Beehive Cluster. Opposite the Sun, Saturn will rise at sunset, set at sunrise, and cross the sky to the south at local midnight, giving it the best visibility of the year. Well to the west of Saturn, rather high to the south as the sky darkens, is reddish Mars (near the Aries-Taurus border), which as February begins, transits the meridian about 6:30 PM. Gracing the sky through the early night hours, Mars now sets shortly before 2 AM, about half an hour after Jupiter rises. With Venus rising around 5:30 AM, the morning dawn sky sees the two brightest of planets, Venus to the southeast, Jupiter (in Libra) to the south, each far outshining the brightest star. Jupiter finds itself near two stars of beloved names, Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae) and Zubeneschamali (Beta), though much closer to the former (which just to the west of the planet).

The winter stars are now in full glory, striking Orion (the Hunter, with the bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel) crossing the meridian to the south around 9 PM. He is surrounded by his retinue of famed figures that include Taurus (the Bull, with Aldebaran) to the northwest, Auriga (the Charioteer, with Capella) to the north, Gemini (the Twins, with Castor and Pollux) to the northeast, Canis Minor (the Smaller Dog, with Procyon) to the east, Canis Major (the Larger Dog, with brilliant Sirius) to the southeast, and finally little Lepus (the Hare) to the south, all giving us one of the great gatherings of the sky. a contemporary of Isaac Newton, thus showing that even the faintest of the sky's naked eye stars can carry their own charm.
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