Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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


Photo of the Week.. A gentle sunset announces the coming night.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 7, 2004.

Our Moon passes its third quarter the morning of Tuesday, May 11, not far from sunrise as it is crossing the meridian to the south, allowing a fine view of an almost perfect division between its day (facing east) and night. A telescopic view vividly shows the dividing line, the " terminator," where crater rims and central mountain peaks throw their longest shadows, and thus stand out in bold relief. The day before the quarter, on Monday the 10th, the Moon passes to the south of Neptune (in Capricornus), and the day after the quarter to the south of Uranus (in Aquarius, the planet lying south of the prominent "Water Jar"). On Wednesday the 12, the Moon will actually occult the brightest asteroid, Vesta (the only one visible to the naked eye), the sight unfortunately seen only in the eastern hemisphere.

Bright planets gather together to create a wonderful evening vista in the west. Venus, brilliant and unmistakable, leads the parade. Up and to the left of it is much dimmer, but notably reddish, Mars, while up and to the left of Mars is Saturn, which still lies in southern Gemini. Keep looking to the east to find bright Jupiter (second only to Venus), which resides two zodiacal constellations over, in Leo. (In between is dim Cancer with its fine open cluster, the Beehive.) To add to the show, down and to the right of Venus is the modestly bright star, Elnath, which represents the northern horn of Taurus, the constellation being lost to twilight. In the other direction, low in the eastern morning sky, a lucky viewer might find Mercury, which is just shy of its greatest western elongation relative to the Sun by the end of the week.

Two modestly bright comets now grace the sky, Comet LINEAR in the morning dawn, Comet NEAT (both acronyms) in evening twilight, the latter a better sight up and to the left of Orion. Both are difficult to see in the bright glow of residual sunlight, and binoculars are necessary.

The northern celestial pole is enclosed in Ursa Minor, the Smaller Bear, which is most recognizable as the Little Dipper. The figure begins with Polaris, which is within a degree of the pole, and stretches almost 20 degrees outward. At this time of year it is beginning to stand on its handle. While the southern pole actually lies in obscure Octans (the Octant), it is actually surrounded by three other constellations unknown to most northerners, Chamaeleon (the obvious Chameleon), Apus (the Bird of Paradise), which lie within 15 degrees of the pole, and Mensa. Only from near the equator of the Earth can one see both the Dipper and the Chameleon at the same time. From the Tropic of Capricorn and south, the Little Dipper is completely lost to sight.
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