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. Oceans of water and sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 27, 2012.

We start off our new week with the Moon in its fat waxing crescent state as it approaches first quarter the morning of Sunday, April 29, with the Moon securely out of sight. It then waxes in its gibbous phase until it reaches its fullness around midnight (give or take) the night of Saturday, May 5. Look the night of Monday the 30th to see the waxing gibbous Moon making a fine triangle with Leo's Regulus to the north and bright reddish Mars to the northeast. The night of Thursday the 3rd sees our companion approaching the Saturn-Spica pair.

Jupiter's gone, but Venus sure isn't. Though beginning to slip downward (as seen at the same time each night), it's still up until after 11 PM. Reaching it's maximum brilliancy (minus fifth magnitude!) for this round the night of Sunday the 29th, it's being taken for an aircraft or UFO, especially with its eerie light shining through the local trees. It will thereafter rapidly disappear from view and be gone by the end of May only to reappear during summer in the morning sky after transiting across the Sun the night of June 5. A view through the telescope reveals Venus's current and quite lovely crescent as it approaches Earth (as it now presents mostly its nighttime side).

Still shining at magnitude zero, Mars then takes over the sky, the red planet crossing the meridian during evening twilight still to the east of Regulus. Giving you a long time to find it, Mars is up until around 3:30 AM. Dimmer, but still prominent, Saturn glows brightly well to the southeast of Mars and to the northeast of Spica, the two stars and two planets making a fine sight under a clear sky. Having just passed opposition with the Sun, the ringed planet transits the meridian around midnight Daylight Time, and does not set until morning twilight lights the sky.

We celebrate an astronomical "holiday" this week, May Day (May 1), or Mayday Eve, a "cross-quarter day" that marks the halfway point between the beginning of spring and the start of summer.

As the mid-evening sky darkens look nearly overhead to spot the Big Dipper of Ursa Major. It's at the top of a stack of constellations that includes prominent Leo (with Mars) to the south. Below Leo lies the faint triangle that marks Sextans (the Sextant) and then the stream that makes up Hydra (the Water Serpent), Hydra's Head lying to the southwest of Regulus. Then after a long fall, far to the south we encounter the stars of Vela, the Sails, which power the great Ship of the Argonauts.
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