Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured five times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5

Atlantic Sky Pacific Sky
Photos of the Week. From Sea to Shining Sea..., the Atlantic sea and sky on the left, the Pacific on the right, both in March of 2006.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 7, 2006.

Read A Minute with Jim Kaler, a brief interview on the outer bodies of the Solar System that appears on the U of I home page.

Our Moon (the only large one in the inner Solar System) begins the week in the waxing gibbous phase, which leads to passage through the full phase on Thursday April 13th during daylight hours in North America. The night of Wednesday the 12th, the near-full Moon will rise just before sunset, while the following night, the just-past-full Moon will rise just after sunset. At close to the moment of full, the Moon will occult Spica in Virgo as seen from parts southern Asia and Australia. From North America, the Moon will lie to the west of Spica the night of Wednesday the 12th (between Porrima and Spica), while the following night it will be to the east of the bright star. In the middle of its gibbous phase, it goes through apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth.

The only planet undergoing any kind of event is Mercury, which reaches greatest western elongation relative to the Sun on Saturday the 8th, when it lies 28 degrees to the west of our star and is therefore visible in morning twilight. This Mercurian apparition is not a particularly good one, however, as the morning ecliptic currently lies fairly flat against the horizon, so the little planet does not get very high before brightening dawn overtakes it. Better to admire magnificent Venus , which is now rising shortly before 5 AM Daylight Time.

In the evening, look for Mars, which now lies between the classical figures of Taurus and Gemini and sets just past local midnight. To the east of the red planet, find Saturn, which by the end of twilight is already well past the meridian to the south. It is so far north, however, that it does not set until 3:30 Daylight Time. The planet lies only a few degrees to the west of the Beehive cluster in Cancer. In a dark sky (which we do not have this week), the cluster is easily visible to the naked eye and is a most lovely sight in binoculars. On the other side of the sky, Jupiter (still in Libra lofts itself above the southeastern horizon around 9:30 Daylight Time.

If the sky is dark enough to find the Beehive, you can also look for a much larger cluster, charming Coma Berenices, which is contained within a much larger constellation of the same name and that lies a bit over 25 degrees south of the curve of the Big Dipper's handle. The cluster, 293 light years away (the average of its many stars), falls in the direction perpendicular to the Milky Way, and contains the northern pole of the flat plane of our Galaxy. In this broad direction, we see no obscuration of the distant heavens from the Milky Way's dust clouds, allowing us to observe the Universe of other galaxies that flock within Coma Berenices and neighboring Virgo.
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