Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Photo of the Week.A new day.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 8, 2009.

Like human life, some weeks of the sky are filled with activity, while others are quiet and relaxing. Unless we get an asteroid strike or something, this one seems to be one of the latter variety. We do start off with the full Moon, which takes place with the Moon well up (before midnight) the night of Friday, May 8. The rest of the week is then spent with our Moon in the waning gibbous, as it heads toward third quarter the night of Saturday the 16th. On Wednesday the 13th, it goes through apogee, where it is farthest from Earth, about 5.5 percent farther than the average 239,000 miles (384,000 kilometers), but unless you can get a direct comparison with the Moon at perigee, the distance effect (which makes the Moon appear 5.5 percent smaller than average) is not something that is noticeable.

Full Moon takes place among the faint stars of Libra, which will be pretty much unobservable. The night of Saturday the 9th, the Moon will lie a bit to the west of Antares in Scorpius, while the following night, that of Sunday the 10th, it will be on the other side, to the east, of the star. The Moon's orbit is currently tilted and oriented such that Antares is undergoing a long series of occultations (coverings) by the Moon, and this passage is no exception, though the event will not be visible in North America.

The evening is highlighted by Saturn, which crosses the meridian to the south during twilight, about an hour after sunset, the ringed planet still very slowly retrograding in southeastern Leo. A telescopic examination shows the rings "closing up," our view just skimming across the northern ring-plane.

Planetary action more belongs to the morning sky, where we find both Jupiter and Venus . Rising around 2:30 AM in extreme northeastern Capricornus, Jupiter dominates the sky until much brighter Venus arrives about an hour and a half later, around 4 AM, half an hour after Saturn sets and just about the time dawn begins to light the eastern sky.

With the Sun just over halfway between the Vernal Equinox in Pisces and the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini, this is a good time of the year to locate the Autumnal Equinox, which lies in Virgo halfway between Regulus (in Leo) and Spica, most of the relatively faint stars that make Virgo lying to the northeast and northwest of the latter star.
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