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.Clouds float under a deep blue sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 3, 2009.

We start the week with the Moon just past its first quarter, which it hit last Thursday, April 2. During most of the week, it will grow through the waxing gibbous phase and then culminate at full phase the morning of Thursday, April 9, shortly after Moonset in North America. The near-rising Sun, the Earth's shadow cast upon the western sky, and the full Moon setting will all make for a fine sight. We then see just a bit of the waning gibbous before the start of Skylights' next week.

With the Sun just past the Vernal Equinox in Pisces, this full Moon (the "Grass Moon," "Egg Moon," "Planter's Moon") will be just past the Autumnal Equinox in Virgo and just south of the celestial equator. We also see the opposite of autumn's "harvest Moon" effect, when the ecliptic is tilted so as to bring us lots of near-full Moonlight in early evening. With the evening ecliptic now tilted in the east at sunset at a high angle, the waning gibbous will quickly disappear from the early evening sky.

While the Moon is gibbously waxing, take a look in the middle of the week as it plows through Leo. The night of Saturday the 4th, the Moon will appear rather well to the west of Regulus and the Sickle of Leo, while the following evening it will be just to the south of the star. The night of Monday the 6th, it will then pass a few degrees to the south of Saturn.

Venus is sadly gone from the evening sky, but is now glorious low in the east in morning twilight. Mercury and Mars are not readily visible, which leaves the rest of the sky to the two giant planets, Saturn and Jupiter. Well up in the east at sunset, the ringed planet now crosses the meridian to the south around 11 PM Daylight Time. Jupiter can then be seen low in the southeast before sunrise, the planet now rising about half an hour before dawn begins to light the sky. In "invisible news," Pluto (in far northwestern Sagittarius) begins retrograde, or westerly, motion on Saturday the 4th.

With Taurus (to the west as the sky darkens), Gemini, and Leo (holding Saturn) dominating the northern Zodiac, we sometimes forget about poor dim Cancer stuck in between the latter two. Sometime when the Moon is out of the way, look within its faint stars to find one of the fine open clusters of the sky, the Praesepe, or Beehive, cluster, known as well as Messier 44.
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