Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured five times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5


Photo of the Week. A quiet sunrise brings peace to the day.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 10, 2006.

Our Moon starts the week late in its waxing gibbous phase and then passes through full the night of Sunday, February 12, about midnight in North America, seemingly caught by the Sickle of Leo a bit to the north of Regulus. It will therefore symmetrically rise a bit before sunset the night of the 12th and set a bit after sunrise the morning of Monday the 13th. Full moons, which allow one to work and play outdoors at night, have myriad myths about them, as well as proper names, this one in the heart of February the "Snow Moon" or "Hunger Moon." During the remainder of the week, the Moon fades in the waning gibbous. Less than a day after full, it passes apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth. The night of Friday the 10th, the Moon will lie to the northwest of Saturn, while the following night it will be about the same distance to the northeast.

Saturn and Mars are visiting two of the great star clusters of the sky. The ringed planet, nicely up in the east in Cancer at the end of twilight, lies just to the southwest of the Praesepe, or Beehive, cluster. Crossing the meridian to the south ever earlier, now around 11 PM, it does not set until well into dawn. Mars, slowly fading (but still as bright as the brightest stars), transits the meridian much earlier, about 6 PM in mid- twilight, just to the southwest of the Taurus's Pleiades. The red planet then coasts down the western sky and sets about 1:30 AM. Though Saturn is 18 times larger than Mars, Mars is still brighter in our skies because it is 6 times closer to the Sun and -- at the moment -- 7 times closer to us. Brighter than all the planets but Venus is Jupiter, which comes up above the horizon just after midnight and shines nicely to the south in Libra as dawn commences. By that time, it is overwhelmed by Venus (to the southwest), which, by the end of the week, is just short of its greatest brilliancy for the year.

There are few -- if any -- constellations quite like Orion, the celestial representation of the ancient Hunter. Now crossing the meridian to the south in early evening, his seven-star main figure immediately draws the eye with first magnitude Betelgeuse at the upper left, zeroth magnitude Rigel at lower right, and in between his bright three-star belt, which the ancient Arabians called the "string of pearls." He is followed by his two hunting dogs, Canis Minor (with bright Procyon), directly to the east, and Canis Major, to the southeast, which holds Sirius, the brightest star of the sky.
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