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

WVa sunset

Photo of the Week.. A West Virginia mountain sunset deepens, slowly bringing day to an end.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 13, 2005.

Once again, the Moon leaves its waning crescent phase behind, passing first quarter the morning of Monday, May 16 (near dawn), after which it waxes in its early gibbous phase. Watch then as our companion takes on bright Jupiter, which it will pass just south of during the afternoon (for North America) of Thursday the 19th. By the time Jupiter is visible toward the south, the two will make a pretty sight, with the Moon just to the east of the giant planet. (The Moon will actually occult Jupiter for parts of South and Central America and Africa.)

Jupiter, crossing the meridian to the south just as twilight ends, still shares the evening with its brother planet, Saturn, which -- still in Gemini -- now sets in the northeast around 12:30 AM Daylight Time. The morning sky is shared briefly by Jupiter and Mars, the latter rising in Aquarius shortly before 3 AM (Daylight), a bit over an hour before Jupiter sets (and twilight begins). Jupiter is somewhat half Saturn's distance from the Sun and goes around it in less than half the time. As a result, Jupiter continues to pull ever farther ahead of Saturn in orbit. Every 20 years, Jupiter catches up again with Saturn in what is known as the "grand conjunction." The last one was May 31, 2000.

The two outer large planets make some news too. On Saturday the 14th, Mars passes just a degree south of Uranus, making the dim planet much easier to find. Farther out, Neptune, still stuck in Capricornus, begins retrograde motion on Thursday the 19th.

Back in the evening, you might search for Venus, which finds itself to the north of the star Aldebaran in Taurus on Wednesday the 18th. The planet will appear very low in western twilight, and is still a challenge to see even with binoculars.

In late evening for those in mid North America, the stars of Centaurus cross the low southern sky. While they do not make much of a prominent figure, they are bright, many part of a huge sprawling physical "association" of hot blue massive stars. Farther down, below the horizon, is the closest star to the Sun, Rigil Kentaurus (Alpha Centauri), 4.4 light years off. To the west of it lies one of the most famed figures of the sky, Crux, the Southern Cross. Look to Spica in Virgo, now to the southeast of Jupiter. To the west of Spica is the distorted square of Corvus, the Crow. Crux is 40 degrees to the south of it.
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