Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured nine times on Earth Science Picture of the Day: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


Photo of the Week. Faint rays announce the coming Sun.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 13, 2011.

We start, as always, with our Moon, which this week dominates the sky as it goes through the bright late stages of its waxing gibbous phase until it passes full Moon on the morning of Tuesday, May 17, about the time of Moonset in North America, allowing you to see the Moon setting about the time the Sun comes up. It then spends the remainder of our week in the waning gibbous, rising progressively later past sundown. The Moon passes south of Saturn during daylight on Saturday the 14th, and will be seen to the southwest of the planet the night of Friday the 13th, then to the southeast of it the following night, Saturn, the Moon, and the star Spica making a neat trio. On the morning of Saturday the 15th, the Moon passes perigee, when it will be abut five percent closer to us than its average distance of 384,000 kilometers (239,000 miles).

The morning sky draws the week's attention, even though the tight pack of four planets will be difficult to see and admire, requiring good timing in dawn's light (about halfway to sunrise), a flat eastern horizon, and binoculars. We begin the week with rising Jupiter just up and to the right of Venus and Mercury down and to the right of the brightest planet. Mars will then be rather well down and to the left of the trio. As the week progresses, Jupiter pulls away to the west, while Mars comes up to meet with Venus and Mercury (Mars still to the left), the red planet finally coming into conjunction with Mercury (two degrees to the south of Mars) on Thursday the 19th. (Venus's turn comes next week.) By that time, Jupiter will have moved well up and to the right of the new-formed triangle.

Saturn, on the other side of the sky and not a part of the family gathering, crosses the meridian to the south around 10 PM Daylight Time just as evening twilight comes to an end, the planet then setting as morning twilight commences.

Follow the curve of the Big Dipper's handle to bright Arcturus. To the northeast lies the lovely curve of stars that makes Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown (which will be fairly well hidden by Moonlight until after full phase). About 20 degrees due east of the star you may spot the X-shaped head of Serpens, the Serpent, which wraps its body around Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, who holds forth north of Scorpius.
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