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

Sunrise clouds

Photo of the Week. Sunrise glory.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, January 30, 2009.

Happy Birthday to STARS and The Star of the Week, born 11 years ago on January 30, 1998.

Skylights is presented early this week.

We begin the week with the waxing crescent Moon visiting Venus. The night of Thursday, January 29, the Moon will appear just down and somewhat to the right of the planet, while by the following night, that of Friday the 30th, the Moon will have moved to the other side, and appear above and a bit to the left of Venus. The crescent then takes leave as it moves northward toward first quarter, the phase reached the evening of Monday, February 2, to celebrate Groundhog Day, a "cross quarter day" that marks the halfway point from the beginning of winter to that of spring. The Moon thence grows and brightens in the waxing gibbous phase.

The evening of Tuesday the 3rd, the just-past-quarter Moon then passes just to the north of the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, even occulting some of the stars as seen from northern North America. Use binoculars for a very pretty sight.

Then its back to Venus, the planet glowing gloriously high in the southwest in twilight. Though the Sun is catching up to it, Venus still marginally sets ever later, and will until the middle of the month, not setting until after 9 PM. Glowing a creamy white when high, the planet is so bright that it can be seen close to the horizon, where it becomes reddened like the setting Sun. As our week begins, Venus moves across the celestial equator and enters the sky's northern hemisphere not far from the Vernal Equinox in Pisces. By the time Venus goes down, Saturn is rising in the east, still residing on far southeastern Leo just to the west of the border with Virgo. Look for it high to the south around 2:30 AM.

As January turns into February, Orion hunts high to the south in mid-evening. While the striking constellation is surrounded by other bright figures, it also marks the beginning of Eridanus, the celestial river, which starts with Cursa (Beta Eridani), a star seen just up and the to right of Rigel, which lies at Orion's southwestern corner. Eridanus then winds to the west before plunging out of sight below North America's southern horizon.
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