Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured five times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5


Photo of the Week.. Floating on the clouds...

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 27, 2005.

The week begins with the Moon in its waning gibbous phase. Always true to form, it passes third quarter on Monday, May 30, about the time it crosses the meridian to the south, then thins in its waning crescent phase towards new, which it will reach next week. As day-to-day the crescent descends the morning sky into dawn, watch for the growth of earthlight on the lunar nighttime side.

As it orbits Earth, the Moon passes three planets. The tilt of the orbit brings the Moon as much as five degrees north and south of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun). As the Moon passes the two outer planets, Uranus and Neptune, it is on the south side of the ecliptic, and therefore goes five degrees south of Neptune on Saturday the 28th, and three degrees south of Uranus on Monday the 30th. Far more obvious is the conjunction of the Moon with Mars the morning of Tuesday May 31, the Moon passing just barely to the south of the red planet. The Moon will actually occult (or cover) it, as seen from southern South America and parts of Antarctica. Closest passage takes place in the midwest around 4 AM CDT, about an hour and a half after Mars rises in the southeast. Closest passage is in bright twilight in Eastern time, and about the time Mars rises in the far western US and Canada.

Two other passages of note have Saturn, lingering in Gemini, moving seven degrees south of Pollux the night of Monday the 30th, and Mercury in superior conjunction with the Sun (when it is on the other side of the Sun) the morning of Friday, June 3. Saturn, setting ever earlier, is now down by 11:30 PM Daylight Time, leaving the evening planetary sky to Jupiter, which transits the meridian to the south in mid-twilight. Though still a difficult catch, you might put on a serious watch for Venus, which sets in the west-northwest also in mid-twilight, about an hour and a half after the Sun. A clear horizon is mandatory.

Late spring-early summer is the season of the Dippers, the Big one seen going over the north celestial pole in early evening, the seven star figure among the most beloved of the sky. As the Big Dipper (the main component of Ursa Major) descends toward the northwest, the Little Dipper (in Ursa Minor) climbs yet higher, the tail of Draco the Dragon in between them. Far down below the pole is Cassiopeia, a remnant of fall, which though low, is still visible for anyone north of about 35 degrees north latitude, which includes most of the US and all of Canada. To the south of the Dipper's handle find the two stars that make the modern constellation Canes Venatici, and to the south of that, the faint lacy cluster of Coma Berenices, "Berenices Hair."
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