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 -- Full List Restored!


Photo of the Week. Memories of Mars in Leo, as seen on November 2, 2011. Reddish Mars is centered with Regulus below it, while the Sickle stretches out to the upper left. See labelled and full resolution versions.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, February 1, 2013.

The last two-weeker for a while, the next Skylights will appear February 15, 2013.

The Moon spends a bit more than half the fortnight travelling through its later phases. We get a peek at the late waning gibbous just before third quarter strikes the morning of Sunday, February 3, with the Moon near the celestial meridian. It then launches itself into the waning crescent phase, finally appearing in last view the morning of Friday the 8th before it hits new the night of Saturday the 9th. Look for it again in western twilight as early as Monday the 11th as a waxing crescent that climbs higher and higher, getting fatter and fatter (the nighttime side aglow with Earthlight) until first quarter is reached early next week.

Early in our period, the Moon visits Spica and Saturn, the planet nearly 20 degrees east of the star. The morning of Friday the 1st before dawn, find the waning gibbous to west of Spica, while the following morning it will reside between the planet and the star. Then look the morning of Saturday the 3rd to see the third quarter just below Saturn. On Thursday the 7th, the Moon goes through perigee, where it is closest to Earth on its monthly round.

Although invisible because of bright western twilight, Mars, Mercury, and Neptune mix it up early in our period with a series of conjunctions. That between Mercury and Mars takes place during the day on Friday the 8th, when the two will be just 0.3 degrees from each other. The thin waxing crescent Moon gets into the act as well just as it becomes visible after new. Mercury begins to peak, setting at the end of evening western twilight, just as our period ends. You can probably forget Venus, as it does not rise until mid-dawn. The planet will not be well seen again until it finally beats evening twilight much later in the year. All of which leaves us with Jupiter and Saturn. Which is not bad. As it has for some time now, the giant planet rules the evening. Look for it high to the south as twilight ends, Jupiter not setting until a couple hours after midnight. By then, it has been replaced in the east by Saturn, which rises near or just after midnight and transits the meridian much lower to the south (again, to the east of Spica, the two still making a nice pairing) about as dawn begins.

And don't forget to celebrate Groundhog Day on Saturday the 2nd, a "cross-quarter" day that marks the halfway point between the beginnings of winter and spring.

It's hard to tear one's gaze from the central figure of winter, bright Orion, which dominates the sky in mid-evening. Look then for the prominent Winter Triangle, made of Betelgeuse (up and to the left of the Hunter's three-starred Belt), Procyon in Canis Minor (to the left of Betelgeuse), and brilliant Sirius in Canis Major at the southern apex.
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