Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

Scout Report Selection Webivore Selection SpaceCareers Selection

Skylights featured three times on Earth Science Picture of the Day: 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 .

Venus and Mars

Photo of the Week.. Venus and Mars visit in twilight early in 2003. Venus is the bright "morning star" at right, while Mars is just above its namesake, Antares of Scorpius (whose three-star "head" is near the upper right-hand corner).

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 2, 2003.

We begin the week with the Moon just barely past its new phase. The evening of Friday, May 2, the thin crescent will be just visible low above the horizon in twilight below the Pleiades of Taurus. The night of Saturday May 3 will provide a better view, as the slim but growing crescent will lie up and to the right of Aldebaran and the Hyades. Watch then for the Moon to split the horns of Taurus the night of Sunday the 4th, when it will also be down and to the right of Saturn . Then as our companion makes its journey around us, look for it northeast of bright Jupiter the night of Thursday, the 8th.

Little Mercury makes the biggest news of the week, as not only is it in inferior conjunction with the Sun (when it lies in between us and the Sun) but the alignment is exact, causing the planet to " transit" the solar surface, and be seen in relief against the solar disk, the event taking place on Wednesday, May 7th. Unfortunately for most of North America, the transit occurs too early in the morning to be visible, and is over before sunrise. However, those on the east coast and a bit inland north of Florida will see the transit in progress and nearing its ending at sunrise. It will be visible in eastern-to-mid-western Canada and from all of Alaska as well. Note that the only way to see it is by projection of the image through a telescope, which requires some prior experience. Under no circumstances should anyone try to see it directly. The planet will appear as a small black dot creeping across the solar disk. Usually, at inferior conjunction Mercury will pass either above or below the Sun. But in intervals of 7 and 14 years, on November 9 or May 7, the planet can cross the ecliptic (the apparent solar path) at the time of conjunction, and we may get to see a transit. The next one will take place in November of 2006. Much rarer are transits of Venus. While the next one will occur on June 8, 2004, there were none in the twentieth century at all.

The giant planets, as witnessed by the Moon's passage against them, are still nicely visible, Saturn lowering in the west, Jupiter still high. The morning sky still sees Venus rising about an hour before sunrise, while in between rides Mars. Now low to the south in Capricornus, the red planet rises around 2 AM Daylight Time.

The Big Dipper is now riding high and nearly overhead for northerners. The Dipper is an "asterism," an informal constellation that is part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, the bowl of the Dipper making the Bear's hindquarters, the handle the tail. To the south you can see three pairs of stars that make the Bear's feet. Different cultures, however, see things differently. To the ancient Arabs, the Bear's feet were the "leaps" of the gazelle.
Valid HTML 4.0!