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 .

Shafts of Sunlight

Photo of the Week.. Shafts of sunlight poke through holes in a sheet of clouds. Really parallel, perspective makes them look as if they are radiating away from the hidden Sun.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 21, 2003.

The Moon passes through its last quarter this week on Sunday the 23rd, around the time it sets. Before dawn it will be found near the head of Scorpius and northwest of the great star Antares. The Moon will thereafter wane through its crescent phase, best visible in the early morning hours, as it approaches its new phase early next month.

As it travels along its zodiacal path, the Moon will make a fine pass south of Mars the night of Monday the 24th, and then be just to the southeast of the planet after they both rise the morning of Tuesday the 25th. Be sure to compare brightening Mars with Antares, seen to the west of the planet. Not only are they nearly the same color, but they are now close to the same brightness. As the Earth catches up with the red planet, it will vastly exceed the brightness of the star. While focussing in on this part of the sky, take particular note of the middle star of Scorpius's head, Dschubba (Delta Scorpii), which has undergone something of an outburst and has brightened over the past couple years almost to first magnitude, somewhat changing the appearance of the constellation.

The next "stop" for the Moon (it of course does not stop, or would fall to Earth) is Venus. The morning of Thursday the 27th, the slimming crescent will pass five degrees to the south of the brilliantly glowing planet. Except for the Moon, Venus glows far brighter than anything else in the sky. At the end of the week, on Friday the 28th, the Moon will pass south of Neptune, the "event" as such not terribly visible. That the Moon is passing well to the south of all these planets reveals the tilt of its orbit, which it taking the Moon south of the ecliptic (the path of the Sun) and then well south of the Sun itself, thereby avoiding a solar eclipse. Only when the Moon is crossing the ecliptic at new phase will such an event occur (and only when crossing the ecliptic at full phase do we get a lunar eclipse).

As March approaches, the winter constellations are in full form in the very early evening. High to the south is glorious Orion, and higher and up and to the right is Taurus, the celestial bull, which contains not just the two clusters of the Hyades (which makes the Bull's head, Aldebaran his eye) and the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters), but also (temporarily in eastern Taurus) Saturn, the planet undergoing an orbital transition, as it ceases retrograde motion on Saturday the 22nd and resumes direct easterly motion. Then look to the east of Saturn to see rising that harbinger of spring, Leo (the Lion), which precedes Cancer the Crab, which in turn holds very bright Jupiter, the giant planet now well up in the east at sunset.
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