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 .

Southern Sky

Photo of the Week.. The southern sky with its bright Milky Way rises in morning twilight, the Southern Cross below, followed by Beta then Alpha Centauri. Taken from southern Madagascar during the total lunar eclipse of November 9, 2003, the sky backlights the spiny forest unique to the island. Photo by Greg Dimijian.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 20, 2004.

The Moon passes its new phase right at the beginning of Skylights' week, the morning of Friday, February 20. The evening of Saturday the 21st watch for the thin crescent in twilight low above the western horizon. As evenings progress, the crescent will fatten and pull itself ever higher in the sky as it heads toward first quarter on Friday the 27th. As the Moon moves westward against the background stars, it takes on the two planets that bracket the Earth. The evening of Sunday the 22nd finds our lunar companion to the west of brilliant Venus (itself unmistakable high to the west in twilight), while on the night of Monday the 23rd, it will be on the other side, and nor far to the east of the planet. The night of Wednesday the 25th, the Moon makes an even closer pass to Mars, standing directly to the south of it. The two are close enough (in angle, not in distance) such that in the South Pacific, the Moon actually occults (passes over) the planet.

Venus, growing ever brighter, does now not set until around 9:30 PM, while dimming (but still first magnitude in brightness) Mars lingers in the sky for another two hours. In the other direction, Jupiter enters the stage to the east shortly before 7 PM, about two hours before Saturn transits the meridian high to the south in southern Gemini, allowing the two giant planets to be seen nicely at the same time (along with Mars and Venus). Not to be outdone, Uranus is in conjunction with the Sun on Saturday the 21st, following brother Neptune's conjunction on February 2. Moving ever so slowly to the east, Neptune is in the direction of Capricornus, while somewhat faster Uranus (along with the Sun) has moved over into Aquarius.

For those in mid-northern latitudes, the sky's sixth brightest star, Capella of Auriga, passes nearly overhead in early evening. This most northerly of first magnitude stars (technically so bright as to be of "zeroth" magnitude, and just beating Deneb for northerliness) falls just short of spring's Arcturus and summer's Vega. Mid-southern latitudes are similarly graced by Canopus in Carina, the sky's second brightest star (after Sirius, which can be seen easily from both locales). While closer to the southern celestial pole than Capella is to the northern pole, it is still not the record, which is taken by Achernar at the end of the River Eridanus. Canopus is seen low above the southern horizon from the deep southern continental US (Florida, Texas, Arizona), and of course from Hawaii.
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