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. Pretty flowers, blue sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 3, 2012.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule; thanks for your patience.

We start the week with the Moon in its waxing gibbous phase as it heads towards full on Tuesday, February 7, just before Moonrise in North America, allowing one to see the Snow Moon, the Wolf Moon, in all its rising glory. Our companion will then fade in the waning gibbous during the rest of the week. As it plies its near-monthly path, the Moon will take a bead on Leo and Mars. The night of Tuesday the 7th finds the Moon to the west of the star Regulus, while the following night sees it to the southeast of the star and south of Leo's classical figure. Then look the night of Thursday the 9th to find the red planet smack in between the fat gibbous and Leo's "tail star," Denebola.

Venus is strikingly beautiful in the early evening sky. Dominating the west, the brilliant planet does not set until after 8:30 PM, almost two hours past the end of evening twilight. It's hard to turn one's head away a bit to the south to admire number two in the planetary sky, Jupiter, which stays with us until shortly before midnight. Then shortly before Venus sets, Mars serves to replace it, rising in the east to the south of western Leo, as noted above. One, two, three bright evening planets, and now number four, Saturn, which rise nearly as Jupiter sets, just before midnight. The morning sky keeps Mars and Saturn, the former transiting the meridian to the south about 2:30 AM, Saturn following about 5 AM, just before dawn begins to light the eastern sky. Saturn makes additional news, as on Wednesday the 8th, it begins retrograde motion, to the west against the stars, allowing it to close in a bit on Spica in Virgo, the star lying to the southwest of the ringed planet. In lesser news, on Thursday the 9th, Venus passes just three-tenths of a degree to the north of ranus, one planet bright enough to cast shadows, the other barely visible to the naked eye under the best of circumstances. In the invisible news department, Mercury goes through superior conjunction with the Sun (on the other side of it) on Tuesday the 7th.

Look nearly overhead in the early evening to see Perseus, the rescuer of Andromeda. Its luminary, Mirfak, (the Alpha star) ranks number 35 in brightness, while the Beta star (Algol, the Demon Star), a fine example of an "eclipsing double" (two stars in orbit, in which one each gets in front of the other), winks at us every 2.9 days. To the east find Auriga with bright Capella, ranking sixth and the most northerly of the first magnitude stars.

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