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


Photo of the Week. Sunray spectacular, cloud shadows thrown across the sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 5, 2010.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule. Thanks for your patience.

Happy Birthday! The Star of the Week, born January 30, 1998 (with Aldebaran as the first star), is twelve years old. The archive has grown as of this writing to 635 stars. With one more (below) to add and many more to follow.

We begin our more normal single week with the last (third) quarter Moon, which takes place the night of Friday, February 5, 2010, well before Moonrise in North America. Seems odd to write "2010," almost futuristic. The Moon then wanes in the crescent phase toward new, that phase not taking place until Saturday the 13th. Your last view of the slim crescent may be had in twilight the morning of Friday the 12th. Mercury, slipping away, will be to the southwest of the Moon at that time, but will be a tough find. The night of Saturday the 6th (rather the morning of Sunday the 7th, as we must wait 'till after Moonrise) finds the Moon to the west of Antares of Scorpius, while the following morning we will see the Moon flipped to the other side of the star.

In the evening, Jupiter is a more than a tough find, as it now sets in mid-twilight, and after and nice long run is effectively gone except to the truly dedicated. But not so Mars and Saturn. While they are about all we have left in the planetary sky, their prominence more than makes up for the general lack. Already up in the east at sunset, but still close to opposition to the Sun, Mars crosses the meridian to the south around 11:30 PM as it dominates the faint stars of Cancer (the celestial Crab) to the north of the charming Beehive star cluster, providing a fine chance to find and look at the thing, the cluster a lovely sight in binoculars. Well before Mars transits, Saturn rises in Virgo, still to the east of the Autumnal Equinox between Regulus (in Leo) and Spica. Locating all four -- Mars, Regulus, Saturn, Spica -- gives a sort of natural dotted line that traces out the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun, near which the planets roam.

Two scary figures hold their heads above the celestial equator, the pair neatly split by the head and shoulders of Orion (who, apparently not aware of them, does not hunt them in any known mythology). To the west is the roundish head of Cetus, the Whale or Sea Monster, while to the east, below Cancer (and now Mars), is the more distorted oval that makes the head of Hydra, the Water Serpent. To the west of Cetus, find Aquarius's Y-shaped Water Jar, while to the east of Hydra's head the modern figure of Sextans, the Sextant, water of prime importance to both ancient and modern makers of the constellations.
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