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!

Low tide High tide

Photos of the Week. Low and high tides (Jekyll Island Georgia), showing the gravitational power of the Moon and Sun.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 5, 2013.

We pass through new Moon this week on the morning of Wednesday, April 10. Prior to the "dark of the Moon," when our companion closely faces the Sun and reflects almost no sunlight to us, we see it in the morning hours as a waning crescent. Your last look at it will probably be on the morning of Monday the 8th; by the following morning the crescent will be ultrathin and close to the horizon. After new, the Moon switches to waxing crescent in the western evening sky. Look for it first during twilight the evening of Thursday the 11th, after which it will climb the western sky past the Pleiades and Hyades clusters, Aldebaran, and Jupiter. But that is a topic for next week. In both the morning and evening crescents, you can admire earthlight (light reflected from the bright daytime side of Earth) onto the nighttime side of the Moon, which allows the whole disk to become visible.

On the morning of Monday the 8th, the Moon skates 7 degrees north of Mercury, which is making a poor appearance in dawn skies, while two days before it slides equally well north of Neptune, the two planets more or less lined up, though Neptune is more than 30 times (going on three billion miles) farther away.

With Mars and Venus far too low in the west after sundown to see, the only planets readily available are our old friends Jupiter and Saturn. The giant of the Solar System leads the way. Just over five degrees almost due north of Aldebaran in Taurus, Jupiter is well into western skies in early evening, finally setting around midnight Daylight Time. Encroaching for a few hours on Jupiter's time of visibility, Saturn then rises in the southeast around 9 PM Daylight in Libra rather well to the east of Virgo's Spica. With us the rest of the night, the ringed planet then transits the meridian to the south about 2:30 AM. For a change of pace, try to see Comet Pan-STARRS very low in northwestern evening twilight. You'd best use binoculars.

To the east of Procyon (which shines brighter than reddish Betelgeuse to west of it, a consequence of Procyon's proximity) lies the head of Hydra, the Water Serpent. The longest constellation in the sky, the giant snake runs far south of Leo, then closely south of faint Crater (the Cup) and obvious boxlike Corvus (the Crow, whose top stars point easterly to Spica), then finally winding up south of eastern Virgo, roughly several degrees south of the current position of Saturn: quite a stretch.
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