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. The "glory" or "pilot's rainbow," caused by sunlight falling onto clouds in front of an airplane and interfering with itself. The shadow of the plane can barely be seen in the middle of the diffraction rings.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, February 26, 2016.

The next skylights will appear March 11.

As we begin, the Moon wanes in the gibbous phase, which ends at third quarter on Tuesday, March 1, rather well before moonrise in North America, as it turns into a waning crescent. That phase in turn ends at new Moon on Monday the 8th, when it will totally eclipse the Sun. But don't break out the eclipse glasses, as the event takes place at night and is not generally visible in North America, though Alaskans will get to see a poor partial display. Hawaiians will witness a better partial eclipse near sunset. In the aftermath is the waxing crescent, which will first appear the twilit evening of Tuesday the 9th.

The night of Sunday February 28 finds the waning gibbous Moon northwest of Mars, while the next night (that of the 29th: see below) we see the Moon to the northeast of the red planet. The just-barely waning crescent then takes on Saturn, passing a few degrees north of the ringed planet the night of Tuesday the 1st. During most of our fortnight the Moon moves slightly closer to Earth, passing perigee, where it is closest, on Thursday the 10th.

Jupiter, which passes opposition with the Sun on Tuesday the 8th, is now visible all night long, rising near sunset, setting near sunrise, and crossing the meridian to the south (stuck in southern Leo) near midnight just about as Mars rises northwest of Antares in Scorpius. Somewhat over an hour later, up comes Saturn to the northeast of Antares, the two planets and the star making a striking triangle. Venus, rising in morning twilight just after Mars transits the meridian, has become a more difficult catch, though it is still bright. The morning of Monday the 7th, it will lie a few degrees south of the waning crescent Moon. Neptune then makes a bit of news by passing conjunction with the Sun on Sunday the 28th.

On Monday, February 29, we celebrate 2016 as a leap year, the extra day tossed in to average out the length of the year at 365.25 days. This simple Julian calendar, however, does not quite fit the real year of 365.2422... days. We get an almost perfect fit in the Gregorian (our civil) calendar by dropping leap years in century years not divisible by 400. The year 2000 was a leap year, while 2100 will not be, which will undoubtedly cause trouble within the calendar industry.

With Leo rising, recognizable by its sickle-shaped head, we can turn our attention to the coming spring. Between Leo and Gemini lies dim Cancer with its Beehive Cluster, while to the south of the celestial Crab is the head of Hydra, the Water Serpent, which then winds far to the southeast. But the winter constellations still dominate the early evening, Orion to the south, Auriga with bright Capella above his head. Through the telescope we can just barely resolve Capella into two luminous stars that circle each other every 104 days about as far apart as Venus is from the Earth.
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