Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

Airplane Moon

Photo of the Week.. "Fly me to the Moon...," the first quarter Moon and wispy clouds enhancing a deep blue sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 11, 2005.

The Moon grows through its waxing crescent phase the first part of the week, and reaches its first quarter -- where it is 90 degrees to the east of the Sun -- on the evening of Tuesday the 15th just as it crosses the meridian to the south, allowing you to see an exact first quarter about as high in the sky as possible. Even better, the first quarter will be passing close to the Pleiades cluster (the Seven Sisters) in Taurus, up and to the right of the Hyades, which (with the nearby star Aldebaran) make up the head of Taurus, the Bull.

Everything (two things anyway) seems to happen on Monday, the 14th. The problem is that the events are both invisible. First, Mercury is in superior conjunction with the Sun, when it is on the opposite side of the Sun from us. It will shortly thereafter pop up in the evening sky. (Look for it in mid-March.) Then, with Neptune having gone though conjunction with the Sun last February 3, it is now in the morning sky and passes conjunction with Venus. A mere 1 degree will separate them, but since they are in bright twilight, observation is impossible.

We do, however, have three bright planets to admire. Saturn , well up in the east in Gemini at the end of twilight, crosses the meridian to the south around 10 PM, almost exactly as brilliant Jupiter rises. Majestically crossing the sky northwest of Spica in Virgo, Jupiter transits the meridian at 3:30 AM, half an hour before Mars rises. Though bright (first magnitude), Mars, just to the north of Sagittarius and about as far south as it can get, is still a bit difficult to catch, especially if you wait until the sky begins to brighten.

In mid-evening, two northern constellations vie for attention, both about the same distance from the celestial equator, and from 40 to 50 degrees north latitude passing nearly overhead. From more southern skies, they appear to be a bit to the north of the zenith. To the west is Auriga, the Charioteer with bright Capella (the "she-goat"), flanked by the triangle of fainter stars that makes her "kids." To the east is Perseus. While having no first magnitude stars, Perseus has a marvelous collection of star-streams that center around Mirfak (at the core of a wide cluster) and Algol, the most famed eclipsing double star of the sky. Making a great triangle with them is Taurus, the Bull, which lies to the south of a line between the two.
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