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

Maui sunset

Photo of the Week. Tropical trees frame a glowing Maui sunset and a radiant Pacific. Courtesy of Ursula Schuster.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 5, 2006.

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

We begin the week with the Moon just barely past its first quarter, after which it will wax in its gibbous phase to full, which is reached the night of Friday, May 12. Two days past first quarter, the Moon rides through apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth .

Four first magnitude stars lie within the possible path of the Moon, which is always within about six degrees of the solar ecliptic plane: Aldebaran in Taurus, Regulus in Leo, Spica in Virgo, and Antares in Scorpius, all of which therefore have the propensity for being occulted (hidden), depending on where the stars are relative to the rotation of the inclined lunar orbit. This week it is Spica's turn, whose occultation unfortunately happens in daytime. Look though a bit later, after dark on the evening of Wednesday the 10th, for the Moon to be just to the east of the bright star. The next two nights the Moon brackets Jupiter, which lies just north of Zubenelgenubi in Libra. The near-full-Moon will be found to the southwest of the bright planet the night of Thursday the 11th, then the night of Friday the 12th to the southeast of it.

Bright Jupiter now really begins to dominate the evening scene. Rising before sunset, the giant planet is obvious in the southeast in Libra by the end of twilight, transits the meridian a half hour before local midnight (12:30 AM Daylight Time), and does not set until sunrise. High to the west in mid-evening find Saturn in Cancer, the ringed planet not setting until 1:30 AM. Farther west lies Mars. Situated beautifully within central Gemini, the red planet goes down just about as Jupiter transits the meridian. The morning sky of course still holds brilliant Venus , whose rising closely tracks the beginning of dawn. The planet is so bright that it can be seen easily well into morning twilight.

While anticipating the rising of Venus, look for a few meteors from the Eta Aquarid meteor shower the morning of Saturday the 6th, whose little particles of fluff are the debris of Halley's Comet. While not all that great a sight from the northern hemisphere, you might still see a few near dawn radiating from the direction of the constellation Aquarius.

While the Big Dipper of Ursa Major glides overhead in early evening, look for the constellations to the south of it, starting with Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs), then going to Coma Berenices (Berenices Hair, made mostly of a lovely star cluster), Virgo with Spica, Corvus (the Crow or Raven), the tail of Hydra, and then enormous Centaurus, which lies atop Crux, the Southern Cross, which for mid and far northerners is but an invisible dream.
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