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

Perfect Sunrise

Photo of the Week. A perfect cloudless sunrise coupled to absorption in the Earth's atmosphere beautifully separates the colors of the solar spectrum from red near the horizon to deep blue overhead.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 21, 2006.

Having just passed last (third) quarter, the Moon wanes in its crescent phase to new, which is invisibly passed during mid-day on Thursday, April 27th. Watch the morning sky for developing earthlight on the lunar nighttime side. Two days before new, the Moon goes through perigee , where it is closest to the Earth, the pairing raising particularly high and low tides at the coasts.

The Moon then takes a bead on four planets in a row (though only one of the events is really visible). On the night of Friday the 21st, it goes four degrees south of Neptune, and then just two days later, a bit over a degree south of Uranus, both of the outer planets (respectively in Capricornus and Aquarius) having well cleared the Sun. The big event is a nice pairing of the Moon with brilliant Venus the morning of Monday the 24th, the planet and Moon rising just as twilight begins, 4:30 AM (Daylight Time). On the morning of Wednesday the 26th, the Moon passes well north of Mercury, but both are so low as to be washed out by bright twilight.

It is the evening that now holds most of the planetary treasures. To the west, find Mars in western Gemini far above disappearing Orion, the red planet setting at local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time). East of Mars (but still in the western sky), in Cancer (one zodiacal constellation over), is Saturn, which sets an hour and a half later. Then toward the southeast, Jupiter (in Libra) makes a mark by rising during mid-twilight, around 8:30 PM Daylight Time.

The fading Moon will not terribly bother the viewing of the Lyrid meteor shower, which peaks the morning of Saturday the 22nd, its meteors appearing to radiate from the constellation Lyra just to the south of Vega. While not the best shower of the year, it still reliably produces perhaps 10-15 meteors per minute, the event caused by the debris of Comet Thatcher of 1861 hitting the Earth's atmosphere. The shower is capable of brief bursts of activity. Mid April sees western Hydra, the Water Serpent (the longest constellation in the sky), crossing the meridian to the south in early evening. Far below its brightest star, lonely Alphard (itself seen to the south and a bit west of Leo, the Lion), the last of Argo the Ship glides away to the west, Vela (its sails) gently rippling in the southern breezes just above the horizon.
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