Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Photo of the Week. Wonderful sunset.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, March 11, 2016.

The next skylights will appear March 25. Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday the 13th.

The Moon first grows in its pretty waxing crescent phase as it approaches first quarter on Tuesday, March 15, the famed "Ides of March," following which it glides through the waxing gibbous, which ends at full Moon on Wednesday the 23rd about the time of Moonset in North America, when the Moon will also undergo a penumbral eclipse. But don't bother watching as the Moon will just barely hit the partial shadow of the Earth and be just slightly dimmed, none of it ever immersed in total shadow. We finish with just a couple days of the waning gibbous as our two-week period runs out. Starting just after perigee, where the Moon is closest to Earth, our satellite gradually works its way through the fortnight to apogee on Friday the 25th, where it is farthest from us (the change in distance not readily noticeable).

The night of Sunday the 13th finds the Moon to the west of Aldebaran and the Hyades in Taurus, while the following evening it will be east of the star and cluster. Then from the night of Saturday the 19th to Tuesday the 22nd, watch the Moon run south of Leo. The evening of the 19th it will be west of Regulus, the following night to the east of the star. The near-full Moon will then pass just two degrees south of Jupiter the evening of Monday the 21st.

Jupiter rules the night, the planet glimmering brightly as evening twilight descends. It now transits the meridian to the south shortly before midnight and does not set until after sunrise. Still in retrograde (moving east against the stars), as noted above it shines to the south of classical Leo to the southeast of Regulus. As Jupiter transits, Mars rises. On the morning of Wednesday the 16th the red planet will pass just barely (a mere nine minutes of arc) north of the bright star Graffias, Beta Scorpii, one of the prominent stars that make the head of Scorpius. An hour after Mars rises, Saturn vaults over the horizon. On Friday the 25th, Saturn also enters retrograde as the Earth prepares to pass between it and the Sun, the ringed planet, Mars, and Antares making a fine triangle. The similarity in color between Mars and the star gave the latter its Greek name, name "Ant-Ares," "like Mars." In the morning, Venus rises in mid-dawn. The brilliant planet passes a mere half a degree south of Neptune on Sunday the 20th, the event quite invisible because of the brightening sky. Finally, Mercury is in superior conjunction with the Sun (on the other side of it) on Wednesday the 23rd.

Well, not quite finally, as the Sun passes the vernal equinox in Pisces at 11:30 PM CDT on Sunday the 20th (12:30 AM EDT on the 21st, 9:30 PDT on the 20th), marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere (and the beginning of autumn in the southern). Given the midnight passage, on Sunday the 20th and Monday the 21st, the Sun will closely rise due east, set due west, and days and nights will be of equal length. The Sun also rises at the north pole and sets at the south pole.

As Canis Major with Sirius (the sky's brightest star) scoots off to the west, it is for a bit replaced in the south by the northern stars of Puppis, the stern of Argo the Ship. Farther south is the second brightest star of the sky, Canopus (in Carina, the Ship's Keel), which is visible only from the far southern US (Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, etc.).
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