Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Photo of the Week. It's spring.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, April 8, 2016.

The next skylights will appear April 22.

Over the fortnight our Moon, our only natural satellite (unless you want to count some temporary ones that have drifted in from the asteroid belt), grows from a slim waxing crescent until it hits first quarter the night of Wednesday, April 13th, falling between the Castor-Pollux pair in Gemini and bright Procyon of Canis Minor, Orion's smaller hunting dog. The Moon then grows in the waxing gibbous phase until it reaches full the night of Thursday the 21st, the exact phase taking place about midnight in North America with the Moon to the east of Spica in Virgo. Moving slightly away from us during our two weeks, the Moon passes apogee, where it is farthest from Earth, on Thursday the 21st 13 hours before full, which will weaken tides at the coasts.

The night of Friday the 8th, the narrow crescent will appear up and to the left of Mercury. Two evenings later, on Sunday the 10th, the crescent will lie just barely east of Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster having occulted the star during daylight in the late afternoon. A telescope is needed to see the event. The night of Saturday the 16th the waxing gibbous Moon will fall right beneath the star Regulus in Leo. The following night it will glide just a couple degrees south of much brighter Jupiter.

Mercury, visible to the west in evening dusk, is making one its better appearances, passing greatest elongation to the east of the Sun on Monday the 18th. This is one of those rare times when Mercury will actually set after twilight ends. Obvious Jupiter transits the meridian about an hour and a half before midnight, followed about half an hour later by the rising of Mars , then after another half hour the rising of Saturn. Mars is making one its great appearances north of Antares in Scorpius, the star named for its Mars-like color ("Ares" the Greek version of Mars). Mars, which makes a fine triangle with Saturn and Antares, ends retrograde motion on Saturday the 16th and begins retrograde motion (westerly against the stars) in preparation for its opposition to the Sun on May 22. In the outer part of the solar system, Uranus is in conjunction with the Sun on Saturday the 9th, while Pluto begins retrograde motion northeast of the Little Milk Dipper of Sagittarius on Monday the 18th.

Follow the curve of the Big Dipper's handle to orange Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, and then to blue-white Spica, the luminary of Virgo. To the south of Spica are the eastern stars of long Hydra, the Water Serpent, and yet farther south those of northern Centaurus, the Centaur. If you are far enough south, below say 25 degrees south latitude, you can catch Crux, the Southern Cross, and to the east of it Beta then Alpha Centauri, the latter the closest star to the Earth.
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