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

Red cloud Moon

Photo of the Week. Rusty evening clouds highlight a waxing crescent Moon.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 6, 2009.

Beginning the week in the late waxing gibbous phase, the Moon heads toward full phase shortly after moonset the morning of Monday, February 9 (perigee, the Moon closest to Earth, taking place two days earlier). The evening of the 9th, the just-past full Moon will thus rise just after sunset. The remainder of the week finds it waning in the gibbous phase. The night of Tuesday the 10th, the Moon will appear to the west of Saturn, while on that of Wednesday the 11th, it will have moved to the east of the ringed planet.

On Monday the 9th, the full Moon will undergo an eclipse; but don't get very excited about it. First, it's not visible in North America (except in the far northwest), and second, it's "penumbral." That is, the Moon passes only through the region of partial shadow of the Earth. From the Moon's point of view, the Earth blocks only part of the Sun. The dimming from such penumbral eclipses is only barely recognizable.

Venus remains glorious high in the southwest in early evening. Later in the week it sets as late as it will during this appearance, shortly after 9 PM. It is now only marginally brightening, reaching maximum brilliance (magnitude -4.8, some 20 times brighter than Sirius) next week. On the other side of the sky, Mercury hits greatest western elongation on Friday the 13th, rendering it fairly visible in the southeast in morning twilight. In between, Saturn rises to the southeast of Regulus in Leo ever earlier, now around 8 PM, well before Venus sets, the ringed planet crossing the meridian to the south around 2 AM. Above it all, Neptune passes conjunction with the Sun on Thursday the 12th.

As the saying goes, "you can't hardly take your eyes off Orion." But for awhile do, and look to the southeast of the Hunter's figure to note brilliant Sirius in Canis Major. If you live in the far southern US, find a clear southern horizon to note Canopus in Carina (part of the great Ship Argo), after Sirius the sky's second brightest star. In between the two lies the sprawling figure of Puppis, the Stern of the Ship. In the other direction, to the north of Sirius, are the dim stars of the modern constellation, Monoceros, the Unicorn.
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