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

Bird and Moon

Photo of the Week.Flying to the Moon....

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 17, 2009.

Hitting third quarter as Skylights begins on Friday, April 17, the Moon then spends the rest of the week in its waning crescent phase. When viewed at the same morning hour, it plunges ever further toward the eastern horizon. The waning crescent then makes its last show for the month the morning of Thursday the 23rd, just before it goes to new Moon the night of Friday the 24th.

As the crescent thins, it will make lovely displays with Jupiter and Venus. The morning of Sunday the 19th, the Moon will appear just to the west of the giant planet. The next two days finds it between Jupiter and its much brighter neighbor. Then the morning of Wednesday the 22nd, the crescent will make an unforgettable sight just to the right of Venus. The two pass so close that, during the day, the Moon will actually occult the planet. While passing between the two bright planets, the Moon will also pass north of Neptune on Sunday the 19th, then north of Uranus on Wednesday the 22nd, and finally, just after the conjunction with Venus, north of Mars.

Rather obviously, we have quite a gang of planets in the eastern morning sky. Jupiter, rising around 3:30 AM Daylight Time, is the first of them to become visible, staying that way in the southwest until growing twilight takes it away. Then just before 5 AM, Venus lofts itself up above the horizon, staying visible well after Jupiter fades away. On Saturday the 18th, Venus then passes several degrees to the north of Mars. Much less visible than the bright pair, the red planet does not even rise until half an hour after the onset of dawn.

But don't forget the evening and Saturn, which transits the meridian to the south around 10:30 PM. It then stays visible in the western sky until it sets just about the time Venus rises. For about an hour, the ringed planet and Jupiter are visible at the same time as they rule opposite sides of the celestial sphere. In the evening, you might also watch out for little Mercury, which pops up in twilight.

This week we celebrate the Lyrid meteor shower, which radiates from the environs of Lyra, the little constellation (dominated by bright Vega) rising high to the northeast in the morning hours. The shower, which typically gives us perhaps a dozen meteors an hour (but is capable of much more), peaks the morning of Wednesday the 22nd. Known for fast meteors, the shower comes from the leavings of Comet Thatcher of 1861, a long-period comet that will not return for another 270 or so years.

After finding Saturn, look to the west for Regulus, then skip just a bit farther to the west to view the irregular head of Hydra, the Water Serpent. The longest constellation in the sky, Hydra then winds to the east beneath Leo and Virgo (with Crater and Corvus in between), and finally ends just to the west of Libra.
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