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. Peeking Moon.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, March 8, 2013.

It's a short week, as the next Skylights will appear a bit early. That's ok, as it's another quiet week anyway except for the beginning of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, March 10. All times below are thus DST. Aside from that, we have the perpetual Moon, which starts off in the thin waning crescent phase as it heads towards new Moon on Monday, March 11. If you have a good eastern horizon, your last look will be on the morning of Sunday the 10th. But then as always, the Moon pops up again in the western evening sky as a waxing crescent, the first view to be had the night of Tuesday the 12th. The visibility will much better by the evening of Wednesday the 13th. There are no significant planetary passages unless you want to count an invisible conjunction between the waning crescent and Neptune a day before the formal new phase.

We DO, however, still have both Jupiter and Saturn to admire, and will for some time yet. None of the other ancient planets (those known since ancient times) are readily visible. The giant of the Solar System dominates the evening, especially with the Moon largely out of sight. Now well into western skies as twilight draws to a close, Jupiter does not set until about 1:30 AM Daylight Time, by which time Saturn (rising around 11 PM Daylight) is nicely up in the southeast well to the east of Spica in Virgo. In the morning hours look to see Saturn cross the meridian about 4:30 AM.

Comet PanSTARRS is now possibly visible low in western evening twilight.

In early evening, as the two Dogs (Canis Major with brilliant Sirius and Canis Minor, marked by Procyon) chase Orion off to the west, look to the northeast to find the Great Bear's Big Dipper, a sure sign of nearby spring. Follow the front bowl stars leftward to Polaris, which will be a third to halfway up the sky depending on where you live (northerners seeing it higher). The much fainter Little Dipper (whose handle curves in the opposite direction from that of its bigger counterpart) will then extend out to the right from Polaris. The figure formally makes up the Little Bear, Ursa Minor. Polaris is about 3/4 of a degree off the true North Celestial Pole. By the common coincidences of cosmic cycles, the morning meridian transit of Saturn currently about coincides with the lower transit of Polaris across the meridian (beneath the pole). The star will then direct you to almost exact north (and of course to all the other compass directions as well).
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