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


Photo of the Week. Yet another orange sunset...a different view of this one.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 2, 2010.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule.

We start the week with the Moon in its waning gibbous phase as it heads toward third quarter the morning of Tuesday, April 6, with the Moon nicely up and to the south around dawn, making for a very nice sight. It then will wane in the crescent, new Moon not achieved until the middle of next week. The only planetary encounter -- and hardly a dramatic one -- is with Neptune the evening of Friday the 9th. The day before, the Moon goes through apogee, where it is farthest from Earth in its monthly round.

This week is highlighted by the extremes of the planetary system. Mercury, the innermost of the gang, averaging just 40 percent Earth's distance from the Sun, passes its greatest eastern elongation on Thursday the 8th, when it will be nicely visible in western evening twilight and very close to much brighter Venus, the two in conjunction near the beginning of our week. Both set as the end of twilight brings full night to the darkening sky. It's a treat to be able to see them together. And at the other end of the planetary system is dim Pluto, which enters retrograde motion (westerly against the stars) in northern Sagittarius, on Tuesday the 6th. Traditionally the "last planet," averaging 40 times Earth's distance from the Sun (but given its eccentric orbit, currently closer to 30), Pluto is more a member of the "Kuiper Belt," an extensive zone of orbiting debris that lies beyond Neptune.

For easier visibility, we still have Mars and Saturn. The red planet now lies just west of the meridian (the sky's north-south line) as the sky darkens. Still in Cancer to the northwest of the Beehive Cluster, it sets around 4 AM daylight time. Saturn, to the east of Mars (and still just to the northeast of the Autumnal Equinox in Virgo), transits around midnight and does not set until sunrise lights the sky.

South of Mars lies the distorted circle that makes the head of Hydra, the Water Serpent. A dark sky and a clear southern horizon will show the figure snaking to the south of Leo and then Saturn, this longest of celestial constellations not ending until it makes it to the southeast of Spica.
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