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 .


Photo of the Week.. Cactus blooms pay homage to the Sun and sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, February 25, 2005.

Skylights will next appear on March 11.

This issue of Skylights is dedicated to my mother, Hazel (Susie) Kaler, who turns 100 today, February 25. Happy Birthday, with love and thanks.

Our Moon begins the week in its waning gibbous phase. Passing third quarter on Thursday, March 3, it then wanes through crescent to new on Thursday, March 10, giving us dark skies as spring comes ever closer in the northern hemisphere. As it moves along, the Moon takes on a planet and two stars. The night of Sunday, February 27, it passes right beneath Jupiter , and together with Virgo's Spica will make a fine configuration. The following night, Monday the 28th, continues the show with the Moon to the left of both Jupiter and Spica. Watch then as the crescent descends through Sagittarius on the morning of Saturday, March 5, with Mars to the left. The following morning, the Moon will pass to the south of the red planet, which now rises just before 4 AM. On Monday the 7th, the Moon passes south of Neptune.

The big event, however, is an occultation by the Moon of the bright, red supergiant star Antares, in Scorpius, on the morning of Thursday, March 3, the event easily visible across the entire US (except Alaska) and most of Canada. The exact time depends on where you are. From the eastern US and Canada, the not-quite-full Moon will pass over the star around 6 AM, in twilight (use binoculars), the star disappearing behind the eastern (leading) lunar edge. The rest of the country sees the event in darkness, around 4:40 AM CST, 3:20 AM MST, 2:15 AM PST, these times only approximate for specific locations. The Moon moves its own angular diameter in about an hour. The star will reappear from behind the lunar disk (at the dark western edge) in twilight in the midwest, around 6 AM CST, 4:30 AM MST, 3 AM PST. In the east, re-emergence is in daylight and not visible. Fun to watch, occultations clearly show the easterly motion of the Moon, and also show that stars have terribly small angular diameters, as they wink out and reappear almost instantly behind the lunar edge. Precision instruments that measure the time it takes the star to disappear and reappear allow the measurement of angular diameter.

Saturn now crosses the meridian high in Gemini at 9 PM, just about as Jupiter rises in the southeast in Virgo. In the early evening, you might spot little Mercury, which will be making a nice appearance toward the end of this fortnight, as Friday the 11th closes in on us -- look due west in mid to late twilight.

In mid-evening, Auriga and Gemini are high in the sky above Orion. Closer to the north celestial pole (around which the stars seem to turn), Perseus and then Cassiopeia are slipping silently to the west, and are slowly being replaced by Ursa Major's Big Dipper, which stands on its handle to the northeast. In between is the pole itself, beautifully marked by Polaris at the end of the handle of Ursa Minor's Little Dipper.
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