Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured six times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6

Orion Setting

Photo of the Week. Spring brings Orion's wintry visit to a close, the Hunter setting to the accompanyment of light clouds. Betelgeuse is just above center, while the famed belt skims the treetops. The Rosette Nebula in Monoceros glows redly up and to the left of Betelgeuse. At its center is the open cluster NGC 2244. (Enjoy full resolution.)

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 28, 2006.

Skylights' "Picture of the Week" for February 24 was featured last week on the Earth Science Picture of the Day .

Having just passed its new phase last Thursday, April 27, the Moon waxes through its crescent phase during the week, and finally passes first quarter the night of Thursday, May 4, close to midnight in North America. You might get your first glimpse of it as a slim crescent just above the western horizon the night of Friday, April 28. In celebration of May Day, we then see the Moon approaching Gemini the night of Monday, May 1st, while the following night (Tuesday the 2nd) sees the growing crescent plowing right through the center of the constellation, its nighttime side aglow with Earthlight. There, shining above Mars, it also makes a fine triangle with (and below) Gemini's Castor and Pollux. Then, the night of Wednesday the 3rd, it is Saturn's turn to have a lunar visit, when the ringed planet will be seen just to the left of the crescent.

Getting ever lower in the evening sky, Mars (in Gemini) still does not set until just before local midnight. Falling ever so slowly in orbit behind the Earth, and fading (on the border between first and second magnitude and notably fainter than Saturn), the red planet will be with us until mid-summer. Still in Cancer, Saturn does not set until an hour and a half later. The whole evening western scene with the two planets and bright stars makes a grand sight. Then the "big guy" takes center stage, as Jupiter, currently 13 times brighter than Saturn and 40 times brighter than Mars, rises in the southeast in Libra at Sunset, and is therefore seen well up at the end of twilight. Indeed, the week belongs to the giant planet, as it passes at maximum retrograde speed through opposition to the Sun on Thursday the 4th, and thereby crosses the meridian to the south at local midnight. Then for another grand sight, admire morning's Venus. Rising at dawn, it shines 5 times brighter even than Jupiter.

This week features another meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids. Seen best from the southern hemisphere, they come in from the direction of Aquarius, peak the morning of Saturday the 6th (allowing one to see the build-up), and feature a dozen or more meteors per minute. Look just before dawn to see the debris of Halley's Comet (which also produces October's Orionids).

Yet another astronomical holiday is upon us, May Day Eve, a "cross- quarter day" that (like North America's "Groundhog Day") splits the difference between solstice-equinox (or vice versa) passage dates. Time for a party.

Little seems to rouse the northern astronomical soul more than the Big Dipper of Ursa Major sailing nearly overhead, unless it is the rising of winter's Orion (which has now nearly disappeared). Look for the Dipper's passage in mid-evening. In a dark sky, the Little Dipper of Ursa Minor will then be curling upward toward it as if in some kind of celestial homage.
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