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!

Moon and Jupiter

Photo of the Week. Crossings. The line between the overexposed Moon and Jupiter (right of center) intersects with that conecting the Hyades cluster (with Aldebaran, down and to the left of Jupiter) and the Pleiades (up and to the right of the Moon). Stars of Orion shine to upper left, the brightest of which is Bellatrix.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, April 26, 2013.

Our Moon begins the week in its waning gibbous phase just barely past full as it slings itself around the lower, southern, part of the Zodiac. After going through third quarter just north of the classical figure of Capricornus the morning of Thursday, May 2 (allowing the near-perfect phase to be seen near sunrise), on the morning of Friday the 3rd it rises as a fat crescent. The cycle then ends at new Moon late next week. There are no planets along this week's lunar path, no planetary passages to admire, though on the morning of Sunday, April 28, the bright waning gibbous might be spotted north of Antares in Scorpius.

For that matter, the whole planetary sky is a bit limited. The inner terrestrials, those physically near the Sun and built like the Earth with iron cores and rocky mantles (Mercury, Venus, and Mars), are all too close in angle to the Sun to be readily seen. Give them time, though. Venus is slowly emerging from evening twilight, Mars just as slowly from dawn's light, and Mercury will make a decent appearance in early June. That leaves us with the two outer ancient planets, the large "gas giants" made largely of hydrogen and helium. Look early to see Jupiter (11 Earth diameters across) in western skies northeast of the bright star Aldebaran. The planet now sets by around 11 PM, just an hour and a half past the formal end of twilight. All that can be put aside, however, as the night really belongs to not much smaller Saturn (9.5 Earths), which passes opposition to the Sun on Sunday, April 28, when it will rise at sundown, set at sunrise, and cross the meridian to the south at local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time). Moving slowly retrograde (to the west) against the stars of western Libra, the planet lies about 15 degrees (an hour of time) due east of Virgo's Spica. Up all night, Saturn is perfectly positioned for viewing. Even a small telescope brings out the rings and the bright satellite Titan.

As the Earth orbits the Sun, when seen at a given time the starry sky slowly shifts by a degree per night to the west. As April goes to May, look well up to the south in mid evening for the great constellation of spring, Leo, the Lion, recognizable by his sickle-shaped foreparts that end in the bright star Regulus. To the east is Denebola, the Lion's Tail. Lower to the southeast will be Spica and Saturn, Spica pointed to by the top of box-like Corvus, the Crow. High to the southeast above Spica and Saturn find Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern hemisphere. Back on Earth, we celebrate an astronomical holiday, May Eve, the night before May Day, May 1, a "cross quarter day" that marks the halfway point from the beginning of spring to that of summer.
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