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 .

Sun and Clouds

Photo of the Week.. Sun and irridescent clouds celebrate the late afternoon sky.

Astronomy news for the short week starting Sunday, March 7, 2004.

Our Moon spends the remainder of the week waning through its gibbous phase as it heads toward third quarter on Saturday, the 13th. As the week ends, it passes perigee, where it is closest to the Earth in its monthly rounds. With the Sun approaching the Vernal Equinox in Pisces, the waning gibbous will fall well below the celestial equator, rising in the southeast and setting in the southwest.

Jupiter and Saturn are working somewhat in concert. Not long after Jupiter went through opposition (last week, on the night of March 3), Saturn becomes "stationary." Ceasing its retrograde, westerly, motion on Sunday the 7th, it begins moving back toward the east against the background stars. Jupiter (to the south of eastern Leo) is now rising before sunset, while Saturn (high in Gemini) crosses the meridian to the south around 7:30 PM, just as twilight comes to an end.

Moving rapidly to the east against the starry background as it slowly falls behind the Earth in orbit, Mars is climbing through the northern sky north of the head of Cetus and approaching Taurus, while heading toward a conjunction with Saturn in late May. Early May will see a nice gathering of these two planets and Venus in the western sky following the end of twilight, the latter planet now stunningly brilliant in early evening.

We commonly divide the sky into thirds. From mid-northern latitudes, the north polar sky is circumpolar, its stars always up, neither rising nor setting. Here we find the Big and Little Dippers, Cassiopeia, and the rest of the northern crew. From mid-southern latitudes, the sky around the south pole is visible all the time, and includes famous figures like the Southern Cross as well as modern ones not known to northerners like Reticulum, the Net, and Dorado, the Swordfish. From neither location can you see the others' polar sky. Running between them is the equatorial sky that is seen from both places, all having access to Orion and his followers as well as to the stars of summer, from Cygnus to Scorpius. As we approach the Earth's equator from mid-latitudes, the number of circumpolar and invisible constellations diminishes, and at the equatorial circle they disappear altogether, rendering the whole sky visible.
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