Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Full Moon

Photo of the Week. A cold full Moon rises behind winter trees.

Astronomy news for the two-week period starting Friday, February 1, 2008.

The next Skylights will appear on Friday, February 15.

This fortnight sees the Moon swinging from waning crescent, when it is nicely visible in the dawn hours, through its new phase on Wednesday, February 6 (when it is not seen at all), and then to the waxing crescent, when it will be seen in the evening hours. The thin crescent will first be readily visible during twilight the night of Friday the 8th. Our period nears its end with the Moon passing first quarter the night of Wednesday the 13th, after which we will see a bit of the waxing gibbous. Just three hours before formal first quarter, the Moon passes perigee, where it is closest to the Earth. The morning of Saturday the 2nd, the Moon will lie to the east of Scorpius's Antares. Then take a look the morning of Monday the 4th to see the Moon passing several degrees to the south of Venus and Jupiter, which still hang out together.

As the Moon passes new, it eclipses the Sun. But don't bother looking for it. First, the Moon will be too far away from Earth to cover the Sun completely (producing an "annular eclipse"), and second, the path of annularity cuts across only Antarctica and the deep southern Pacific. The Americas see nothing at all. But keep a date with the night of February 20-21, when we will get a fine view of a total eclipse of the Moon as it passes full.

Having just passed close conjunction the morning of February 1, Venus and Jupiter (still prominent in southeastern dawn) are now pulling apart, Venus sinking, Jupiter climbing. By the end of our fortnight, Jupiter will be some 15 degrees to the west of Venus and will rise a full hour earlier, at 4:30 AM. The two give us a fine opportunity to see planetary motion in action.

On the other side of the sky, Mars transits the meridian high in Taurus (more or less between the Bull's horns) around 8:30 PM. With us much of the night, it does not set until about an hour before Jupiter rises. Well to the east of Mars, Saturn (in Leo) now rises just as twilight ends, and crosses the meridian around 1:30 AM. Curiously, the closest and farthest large planet to the Sun, Mercury and Neptune, both pass conjunction with the Sun, Mercury (inferior conjunction) on Wednesday the 6th, Neptune on Sunday the 10th.

Halfway up the sky, Orion and his cohort are now on full evening display. Directly over his head (and a bit to the left and right) lie Gemini and Taurus, and above them both is Auriga, the Charioteer, which holds the most northerly first magnitude star (actually "zeroth" magnitude), Capella, and also the Anticenter of the Galaxy, from the Sun's point of view the position in the sky opposite the Galactic Center in Sagittarius.
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