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


Photo of the Week. More reflections.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 4, 2011.

We begin the week with the beginning of the lunar phase cycle, as the Moon passes through its new phase, more or less between us and the Sun, on Friday, March 4. At that time, the near side (that always facing the Earth) is in darkness (and invisible), and the far side, which never faces Earth, is in full sunlight. The Moon then spends the whole of Skylights' week climbing out of western evening twilight as a waxing crescent, first quarter not reached until the night of Saturday the 12th. With a clear sky and a flat horizon, you might get your first glimpse of it in bright twilight the evening of Saturday the 5th. By the next evening, that of Sunday the 6th, it will not only be obvious, but will make a fine sight to the right of Jupiter, which is going the other way and night-by-night is sinking toward the Sun. One more evening along sees the growing crescent well above the giant planet. In the last of lunar news, the Moon passes its apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth, on the night of Saturday the 5th.

As noted above, Jupiter is rapidly disappearing from the evening western sky. By the end of our week, it will be setting by 7:30 PM, just as twilight ends and the sky becomes fully dark. With Jupiter now moving more rapidly to the east against the stars on the Pisces-Cetus border, the delay between Jupiter setting and Saturn rising (still to the northwest of Spica) is squeezing to under half an hour. The ringed planet is then with us the rest of the night, crossing the meridian to the south around 2 AM. Two and a half hours later, up comes Venus, still well into the southeast. While its rising time has remained fairly steady at 4:30 AM, twilight has been getting notably earlier as the Sun moves to the north, such that the brilliant planet is not as high by the time it disappears into the brightening dawn. By next week, it will be rising just as twilight begins to light the sky.

If you love the winter stars, you need look ever earlier. Orion is now crossing the meridian just before 7 PM, followed by the star Sirius (brightest in the sky) an hour or so later, with Gemini, far to the north, doing about the same. Coming up are the stars of spring, which include that great harbinger of warmer times, Leo, following behind Gemini (Cancer in between) well to the west of Saturn.
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