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!


Photo of the Week. Having left, the leaves shall return.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 17, 2012.

The Moon fades the early part of the week in its waning crescent phase as it heads toward new Moon on Tuesday, February 21. Your last view of the ultraslim crescent, given a good horizon, will be the morning of Monday the 20th. It will thereafter pop up in the early evening sky as an even thinner waxing crescent (and a difficult catch) the twilight-filled evening of Wednesday the 22nd to the right of the planet Mercury, which is beginning to make a nice appearance. By the early night of Thursday the 23rd, the crescent will be obvious well down and to the right of Venus, the two preparing for a lovely pairing early next week.

Venus: superlatives abound. The planet has become so bright that it is being taken for a UFO that follows wherever you go. Nicely visible in a dark sky more than two hours after the end of twilight, it does not set until after 9 PM. And as bright as it is now, it will just keep getting better until April and early May, so enjoy the show. At the same time, Mercury is showing itself far below it. Following along behind Venus is number two in the planetary brightness parade, Jupiter, which in the early part of the week goes to the horizon less than two hours after Venus disappears, the two approaching a fine conjunction in the middle of March a few days before the welcome coming of spring. On the other side of the sky, bright orange-red Mars rises (still in southeastern Leo) around 7 PM just as twilight draws to a close. Then wait a few hours to catch the rising of Saturn (just to the northeast of fainter Spica, the two unmistakable) around 10:30 PM. The morning sky remains the domain of the two planets, Mars crossing the meridian to the south at 1:30 AM, Saturn following at 4 AM with Mars and Leo then well into the western skies.

Orion, standing high to the south at 8 PM, still enthralls. Below him look for the ragged boxes of stars that make the Hunter's perpetual prey, Lepus, the Hare, which seems to run from Canis Major, the Larger Dog (noted by bright Sirius) immediately to the east. Much farther down is the flat triangle that composes the modern constellation of Columba, the Dove. From the deep southern US, Canopus, the sky's second brightest star, makes an appearance far below Sirius, seeming to skim along the horizon.
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