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!


Photo of the Week. Pleiades and company, the famed "Seven Sisters" seen diving down the western sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 20, 2012.

We begin our week with the Moon in its new phase, which is passed the night of Friday, April 20. During the remainder of the week, we then see our companion as a growing, waxing crescent, as it heads toward first quarter the morning of Saturday the 29th. See if you can spot the thinnest crescent in twilight the evening of Sunday the 22nd. It shines just above Jupiter, which is being lost from sight, the two requiring good timing and a very flat horizon.

The crescent then launches itself upward, each night climbing higher. The evening of Monday the 23rd, find it positioned just to the left of the Pleiades of Taurus, down below Venus. The following night is better, when the Moon nicely paired with the brilliant planet, appearing down and to the left of it and just above the Hyades and Aldebaran. The Moon then leaves the scene, falling well up and to the left of Venus the night of Wednesday the 25th. The following evenings the Moon then takes on Gemini to the south of Castor and Pollux until it hits dim Cancer at first quarter. On Sunday the 22nd, just past new, the Moon goes through apogee, where it is farthest from Earth, the slightly increased distance notably weakening "spring" tides at the coasts.

Venus still dominates the early evening sky, the planet just shy of its greatest possible brilliance. Now quite far to the north of the celestial equator, Venus sets around 11:30 PM Daylight Time well toward the northwest, Jupiter preceding it by more than two hours. We still, however, have time to admire bright Mars, which crosses the meridian to the south just as twilight ends. Still hanging out to the east of Regulus in Leo, the red planet is up until 4 AM. The night, though, really belongs to Saturn, which is already up at sunset, transits the meridian just before midnight, and is visible all night to the northeast of Spica in Virgo. In invisible news, Mercury is in conjunction with Uranus on Saturday the 21st.

The nights of Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st (actually the following mornings) are marked by the annual Lyrid meteor shower, which typically produces about a dozen meteors per hour coming from the direction of the constellation Lyra, the Harp. They appear to be related to Great Comet of 1861.

The early evening sky is the time to view Leo, which rides high around 9 PM. Between it and Gemini to the west find dim Cancer, the Crab, and to the southeast look to Virgo and Spica. To the north of the Lion rides the icon of spring skies, the Big Dipper of Ursa Major. Follow its two front bowl stars to the north to see Polaris, about which the sky appears to turn.
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