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


Photo of the Week. Ocean showers.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 22, 2011.

The beginning of our new week sees the Moon in its waning gibbous phase as it prepares to pass third quarter on Sunday, April 24, shortly before Moonrise in North America. It then spends the remainder of our period as a waning crescent that will not reach new Moon until the night of May 2nd. The morning of Friday the 29th will find the Moon beginning a visit with Venus, when the planet will be well down and to the left of the narrowing crescent. The crescent will also pass well to the north of Neptune on Wednesday the 27th and then do the same with Uranus the night of Friday the 29th, the events of no real consequence. We then end the week with the Moon a day shy of apogee, where and when it is farthest from Earth in its monthly round.

With Venus sinking into morning twilight (the planet not rising until half an hour after the sky begins to brighten), with Mars and Jupiter yet to emerge from it, and with Mercury stashed within dawn's light (down and to the left of Venus) as well, we are left to admire Saturn , which is on beautiful display. Rising well before sunset, it is nicely up in the east by the time the sky darkens, crosses the meridian to the south around 11:30 Daylight time, and does not set until after the onset of dawn. Being so far from the Sun, nearly 10 times farther than Earth, it moves so slowly against the stellar background that it maintains its position within a given constellation of residence for a long time, as witnessed by its continuing proximity to Spica, which has been lying to the southeast of the planet for some time, the two making a fine sight as they cross the nighttime sky. Even a small telescope will give a good view of the rings, which are by far the brightest such structures in the Solar System. Their origins long unclear, they are now thought to have been caused by the tidal destruction of an icy satellite.

To the north and a bit to the west of Saturn and Spica rises one of the most glorious stars of the sky, Arcturus. Brightest of the northern hemisphere, and fourth brightest in the heavens (after southern Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri, the latter two invisible from all but the deep southern parts of the US), it is quite recognizable south of the handle of the Big Dipper by its orangish color. Look then for the rest of its constellation, Bootes, the Herdsman. Stretching out to to north-northwest of Arcturus like a giant kite, Bootes drives the Great Bear (of which the Dipper is a part) around the pole.
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