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. An orange sunrise lights a wintery land.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 29, 2011.

Our Moon fades away in the morning sky during the first couple days of the week as it wanes in the crescent phase. After passing by the Sun as new Moon the night of Monday, May 2, it will appear in the evening sky as a waxing crescent, where and when it will illuminate the rest of the week. As it wanes, it will appear several degrees above (to the northwest of) Venus the morning of Saturday, April 30. As April turns to May, the crescent also then passes north of nearly-invisible Uranus, Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter, all of which lie close to the dawn horizon. Your last view of the crescent will be the morning of Sunday, May 1. Look for it next the evening of Wednesday the 4th as it climbs out of evening twilight, passing through Taurus, which with its Hyades and Pleiades clusters sinks into invisibility. The lunar view will be much better the following nights. The week also starts with the Moon at its apogee, where it is farthest from Earth.

It's too bad that the planetary action all takes place so close to the bright dawn horizon, as were it all visible, it would make a spectacular sight. Clumped within a few degrees of one another, we find Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter, with Uranus tossed in as a bonus. (The "alignment," such as it is, has no effect on us whatever.) As an extra, Mars passes just 0.4 degrees to the north of Jupiter the morning of Sunday the 1st. The only one readily visible is bright Venus, and that requires a good horizon and good timing, the planet not rising until mid-way into morning twilight. That leaves us with Saturn. Not part of the family gathering, as the sky darkens the ringed planet is well up in the east (still to the northwest of Spica), and now appears to the south crossing the meridian around 11 PM Daylight Time and not setting until morning's early light.

May is ushered in with yet another astronomical holiday, May Day, the first of May (rather May Day eve), which marks the midway point between the beginnings of spring and summer and bears the same relation to the seasons as Groundhog Day does to winter and spring. So enjoy the days of warmth to come.

The debris of Halley's Comet hits us this week as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which emanates from Aquarius and peaks the morning of Friday the 6th before dawn. Unfortunately, it is a southern affair, those in mid-to northern North America not seeing much.

As the Sun moves to the north along its ecliptic path, the evening Zodiac slips ever more to the south. At 9 PM, Leo now rides high to the south, followed by Virgo, which is graced by Saturn and Spica. Stay up past midnight, and Libra starts to make its passage. To southeast of it and to the southwest of Spica, lies the tail of Hydra, the Water Serpent, whose scary head is just to the east of Procyon in Canis Minor.
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