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

San Andreas

Photo of the Week.Blue skies shimmer above a reflective lake that marks California's San Andreas Fault, the JUnction of two massive crustal plates.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 13, 2009.

The Moon launches the week in the waning gibbous phase as it glides through the Zodiac toward its last quarter, that phase achieved on Monday, February 16, after which it enters the waning crescent phase. The morning of Saturday the 14th finds the fading Moon just to the southeast of Virgo's Spica. Then the morning of Tuesday the 17th, the Moon will appear to the west of Antares in Scorpius, while by the following morning it will have moved to the other side of the star. The morning of Friday the 20th finds the crescent low in the southwest amidst the stars of Sagittarius. On Thursday the 19th, it passes apogee, where is farthest from the Earth.

Venus , long on the evening's center stage, outdoes itself by passing its greatest brilliancy in this round of visibility on Thursday the 19th. At apparent magnitude -4.8, it is now 22 times brighter than Sirius, the sky's brightest star. While still not setting until around 9 PM, the setting times will rapidly get earlier, the planet gone from evening by the end of March. But take heart, as it will rapidly move past the Sun and appear gloriously in the morning sky only a month later. And while feasting on Venus, you can also admire Saturn, which now rises just before the end of twilight and crosses the meridian to the south around 1:30 AM. Moving ever so slowly, this most distant of ancient planets is now retrograding against the stars of southeastern Leo.

But back to the morning, where we find a wonderful planetary clustering. On Tuesday the 17th, Jupiter and Mars (seen in bright twlight) will pass conjunction with each other a mere degree apart (Mars to the right of Jupiter). You will need a clear sky, a flat horizon, and binoculars to see it. Up and to the right find Mercury, whose greatest western elongation takes place on Friday the 13th (lucky for us!). The planetary play, mixed in with the Moon, will continue into next week.

We forget sometimes that the so-called lesser constellations can be just as charming as the lustrous ones. Look to the south of Orion to find Lepus, the Hare, which looks like two boxes put together. Farther down is the flat triangle of Columba, the Dove, with the faint stars of modern Caelum, the Engraving Tool, to the right, and brilliant Sirius in Canis Major to the left.
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