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. Moonlit skies.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, March 15, 2013.

The next Skylights will appear Friday, March 29, 2013.

Having passed its new phase on Monday, March 11, the Moon spends the early part of our fortnight as a waxing crescent. At least until it hits first quarter on Tuesday the 19th. It then launches itself into the waxing gibbous as it heads toward full phase the night of Tuesday the 26th (more accurately the morning of Wednesday the 27th, with the Moon high in the west), after which it begins to fade in the waning gibbous. Less than a day before first quarter, the Moon passes its apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth.

Many are the fine visitations. The evening of Saturday the 16th finds the growing crescent down and to the left of the Pleiades cluster, with obvious Jupiter higher up. Then be sure to look the following evening to see the Moon splitting the narrow space between Jupiter and the star Aldebaran, which will lie down and to the left. Even the evening of Monday the 18th will look good, graced with the Moon now making a long triangle with the planet- star pair. During our second week, the brightening Moon then encounters Regulus in Leo, on Saturday the 23rd lying to the west of the star, the following night to the southeast of it. The night of Wednesday the 27th then finds the near full Moon to the west of Virgo's Spica, while the following night the Moon falls between the star and Saturn.

Jupiter slowly slips to the west, passing a milestone of sorts toward the end of the fortnight when it starts setting before local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time). It has its own visitation when (moving slowly easterly) on Sunday the 24th it passes five degrees north of Aldebaran in Taurus. Then around 10 PM or so look for Saturn to rise rather well to the east of somewhat fainter Spica. Crossing the meridian to the south between 3 and 4 AM, the planet is well into western skies by dawn's light. Long gone from morning skies now, Venus finally passes superior conjunction with the Sun on Thursday the 28th, when it passes into evening skies, though it will not be visible for quite some time. Oddly, on the same day, Uranus has its own invisible conjunction with the Sun as it goes from an evening object to a morning one.

Comet Pan-STARRS lies low in the west in twilight. It may or may not be visible.

The most important visitation of all takes place the morning of Wednesday the 20th, when at 6:02 AM CDT (7:02 EDT, 5:02 MDT, 4:02 PDT) the Sun crosses the Vernal Equinox in Pisces, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. At that time, the Sun rises due east, sets due west, and days and nights are close to equal length. The North Pole also technically sees sunrise, which begins six months of sunlight, the South Pole sunset and six months of twilight and darkness.

As spring begins, look in the early evening to the far south to see the northern stars of great Ship Argo sailing off to the west. The constellation is so large that it's divided into Puppis (the Stern, south and east of Canis Major), Carina the Hull, and Vela the Sails (southeast of Puppis). Carina holds the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, which those in the far south can see almost directly below Sirius.
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