Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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


Photo of the Week.. The Moon emerges from the Earth's shadow in the eclipse of May 15, 2003.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 23, 2003.

The Moon, having passed its last -- third -- quarter last Thursday (May 22), fades through its waning crescent phase during the week, not reaching its new phase until Friday the 30th. We therefore have one of those weeks in which none of the "quarterings" of the lunar orbit occur, the new phase in a sense being "zeroeth quarter," full "second quarter," though neither of these terms is in actual use. Toward the middle of the week, on Tuesday the 27th, Venus comes into conjunction with its brother "inferior" planet Mercury ("inferior" meaning that the two the lie closer to the Sun than we), the best views being the mornings of Tuesday the 27th and Wednesday, the 28th. If you have a clear eastern horizon, the slimming crescent Moon will make a fine triangle with the two planets on the 28th, lying up and to the right of them. The following morning, on Thursday the 29th, the Moon will be much lower and thinner, and down and to the left of the planets. All this action takes place in twilight, as Venus rises just an hour before sunrise. The Moon actually takes a bead on Venus, and occults, or passes over it, though out of sight in the Americas (the event visible only in the eastern hemisphere).

In the evening sky, Saturn now sets just as astronomical twilight ends (that is, when the sky is fully dark, defined as being when the Sun is 18 degrees below the horizon), making the ringed planet increasingly difficult to see. Jupiter, on the other hand, has now made its full transition to evening, setting at local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time). A quarter hour later, Mars rises in the southeast, notable by its bright reddish glow. Mars, now being approached by the Earth, is rather quickly zipping along to the east relative to the stars, which temporarily delays its transition to an evening rise time (which takes place June 1). Watch the red planet now, as it is approaching a " favorable opposition," and on August 27 will be closer to Earth than in any time in recorded history (though not by a lot).

If you live very far south, you can see the Southern Cross making its transit across the southern meridian around 9 PM, followed by Beta then Alpha Centauri, the latter the closest star to the Earth (all visible only from somewhat south of the 30th parallel). At about the same position in northern skies lies the Big Dipper, which is fully visible only to the north of about 30 degrees SOUTH latitude. The famed "Pointers" of the Dipper, the two front bowl stars, direct the eye to Polaris. But along the way, they also point to the tail -- the end star of -- Draco, the Dragon (which winds to the east between the Big and Little Dippers), the star known as Giausar, or Lambda Draconis.
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