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

Rose cloud

Photo of the Week. A rosy cloud floats by.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 5, 2010.

Want to see the Moon? Then you'll have to be up late. Starting in the waning gibbous, it passes third quarter on Sunday, March 7, when it will not rise until after midnight. Afterwards, in the waning crescent, it rises ever later, until it finally disappears at new phase next week, on Monday the 15th.

And it puts on a good show. The morning of Saturday the 6th, it will shine within the southern part of the three-star head of Scorpius to the west of Antares. By the following morning, it will (at its rate of 13 degrees per day) have flipped to the east of the star. Then it's Sagittarius's turn, the Moon spending the next three mornings passing the celestial Archer. The morning of Tuesday the 9th, look for it just north of Sagittarius's five-star "Little Milk Dipper." Even the morning of Friday the 12th will give you a view of the thinning crescent. That same day, the Moon goes through apogee, where it is farthest from Earth.

While Jupiter is gone from sight, Saturn is still nicely there. Rising in mid-twilight amidst the fainter stars of Virgo to the east of the autumnal equinox, the planet plies the eastern sky until it transits the meridian to the south at 1 AM, after which it descends the western heavens.

Beyond that, the sky is beholden to the planets that bracket the Earth: Venus and Mars. Venus is so luminous that it should be visible in bright western twilight, setting about half an hour before the sky gets truly dark. Mars on the other hand, transits the meridian around 9 PM, some two hours after Venus sets. The red planet is so far north, still to the east of Gemini's Castor and Pollux, that it does not set until the advent of dawn. Mars also makes special news, as it ceases its retrograde motion the night of Wednesday the 10th. It will thereafter begin to swing with ever increasing speed to the east against the stars. Given that the Earth only slowly pulls ahead of it in orbit, this most-Earthlike planet will be visible in the western sky until late summer.

'Tis the prime season for glorious Sirius, the luminary not just of Canis Major, but of the entire sky, the star seen now to the south at 8 PM. Well below it, those in the deep south might be able to catch the second brightest star, Canopus, the luminary of Carina, the Hull of ancient Argo, the Ship of the Argonauts, which sails below and to the east of Orion's Larger Dog. Far above, Auriga, with Capella, the most northerly first magnitude star, slips west along with the rest of winter's gang.
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