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!

Wispy clouds

Photo of the Week. Blowing clouds.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, February 12, 2016.

The next skylights will appear February 26.

Happy Valentine's Day, and a belated Happy Groundhog Day, the latter marking the halfway point in winter on our way to spring.

The Moon begins our fortnight in the fat waxing crescent phase, which ends at first quarter the night of Sunday, February 14, shortly after moonset in North America. It thereafter enters the waxing gibbous phase as it heads towards full Moon on Monday the 22nd around noon. The Moon will thus be just shy of full the evening of Sunday the 21st and just past the phase the night of the 22nd. It then concludes our period in the waning gibbous phase. During our two weeks, the Moon steadily moves away from us toward apogee, where on Friday the 26th it will be farthest from Earth, a change of only 5.5 percent from the average distance.

Watch the evening of Monday the 15th as the quarter Moon plows through the southern part of the Hyades cluster in Taurus, covering stars as it goes, then finally meeting up with Aldebaran in the morning, the occultation of the star visible only from the west coast. Look for the Pleiades to the northwest of the Moon. The night of Sunday the 21st, the near-full Moon will appear west of the star Regulus in Leo, while the following evening it will lie between Regulus and bright Jupiter. Then the night of Tuesday the 23rd we are in for a treat as the Moon passes just a couple degrees south of the bright planet.

Given Jupiter's angular proximity to the near-full Moon, it obviously rises early, by 7:30 PM at the start of our fortnight (just after the end of twilight), an hour earlier at the end of it. Next up is Mars, which rises just after midnight and shortly before Jupiter transits the meridian, Mars well to the west- northwest of Antares. Having a similar color, the star's name means "rival of Mars." At about the time Antares rises, so does Saturn, 2:30 AM as we begin, 1:30 AM as we end, Mars and Saturn bracketing northern Scorpius and forming a nice triangle with Antares. Finally, if you have a good southeastern horizon you might spot Venus glimmering up in morning twilight.

Orion rides high to the south in early evening, Gemini (with Castor and Pollux) to the northeast, Auriga (with Capella) above. To the southeast of the Hunter glows white Sirius, the brightest star of the sky and in winter nights the champion twinkler as its light is jittered about by our irregular atmosphere. The planets on the other hand shine with a steadier light, the result of their being extended disks that average out the twinkling suffered by the near-points of light that are the stars.

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