Skylights featured three times on Earth Science
Picture of the Day: 1
Photo of the Week.. Telephone wires set against a
wide country sky help close the distances between us.
Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 30, 2004.
Happy Birthday to the Star of the
Week. Born January 29, 1998 with Aldebaran, and now six years old,
the growing archive contains descriptions of 311 stars.
This week is the near-exclusive domain of the waxing
gibbous Moon. First quarter took place the night of Wednesday,
January 28th, while full will not be accomplished until the night
of Thursday, February 5, the Moon rising just short of full, the phase actually reached in the morning hours of Friday the
6th. Still in the depth of winter, this full Moon is variously
called the "Snow Moon," the "Hunger Moon," or "Wolf Moon." No
eclipse here, as the full Moon passes well to the north of the
Earth's shadow. We end the month with the Moon at its apogee
, where it is farthest from the Earth, 5.5 percent farther than
average, at a distance of 252,000 miles, 406,000 kilometers. The
night of Monday, February 2, our companion will pass to the north
of Saturn, which lies in southern Gemini only a few degrees to the
east of the Summer Solstice. The
same day, Neptune passes conjunction with the Sun.
Venus becomes ever more luminous and prominent in
the twilight southwestern sky. It will continue to brighten as it
approaches the Earth, not reaching maximum brightness until the
beginning of May. Half an hour before Venus sets,
Jupiter begins to grace the eastern horizon. With Mars to the southwest
and Saturn high to the northeast, between roughly 8 and 8:30 PM,
all the ancient planets (those known since ancient times) but Mercury will be in the sky at the same
The above two conjunctions celebrate an astronomical holiday of
sorts, the traditional splitting of the beginning of winter and
that of spring, reminding us that new grass and blossoms are not
far off. One of the four "cross-quarter days," February 2 is
called "Candlemas" in England and "Groundhog Day" in America. If
the groundhog sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of
winter, while if he does not, there will be 42 days. The other
major cross quarter days are May Day eve, half way between the
solar Vernal Equinox and Summer
Solstice passages, and Halloween, which announces the coming of
Magnificent Orion now dominates
the starry sky, remaining prominent even through bright moonlight.
Within the constellation are a variety of subgroups, "asterisms,"
informal constellations. Of these, the three star "Belt" is by far
the most notable, followed by the Sword, which hangs below it. To
the west is a lesser known group, a vertical string of stars, six
of which are all named "Pi Orionis" (from top to bottom Pi-1
through Pi-6), which make the Hunter's "lion's skin" or sleeve.