Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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


Photo of the Week. Spring sunrise.

Astronomy news for the three-week period starting Friday, May 30, 2008.

Skylights will next appear June 20, 2008, just in time for the Summer Solstice.

The triple week spans the phases from new Moon on Tuesday, June 3, through the first quarter on Tuesday the 10th, to full on Wednesday the 18th. During the first part of our period, the Moon appears as a thin waning crescent moving into dawn, while during the tail-end of it, you'll see a bit of the waning gibbous. With the Sun set to pass its highest point on the ecliptic at the Summer Solstice (practically on the Gemini-Taurus border) the night of Friday the 20th (in North America), this full Moon will be the most southerly, and for northerners the lowest, of the year, when it will be found passing through Sagittarius near the Winter Solstice.

As it moves along its orbit, the Moon will make a close pass to the south of Mars the night of Saturday the 7th, the red planet's polar secrets soon to be revealed. The following evening, the Moon is then to be found just below Leo's Regulus as it prepares to pass south of Saturn, the trio making a fine sight. After a long wait, while the Moon plunges deeper to the south, it runs just under Antares in Scorpius the night of Monday the 16th on its way to Sagittarius on Wednesday the 18th, finally winding up to the west of Jupiter on the night of Thursday the 19th. Just six hours before new, the Moon goes through perigee, where it is closest to the Earth, giving us notably high and low tides at the coasts.

The three evening planets remain in the same relative order: from west to east, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter. Moving rapidly through western Cancer, half a degree a day (the angular diameter of the full Moon), the red planet will cross the border into Leo on Tuesday the 10th as it approaches Regulus and Saturn. As they get closer, so do their setting times, Mars (in the middle of June) going down at midnight Daylight Time, Saturn only half an hour later. On the other side of the sky, big old Jupiter climbs upward in Sagittarius at 11 PM the first of June, an hour earlier by the middle of the month, so bright you can't really miss it.

Invisibility reigns over the other two ancient planets. On Saturday the 7th, Mercury passes inferior conjunction between us and the Sun (but well to the south of it, no transit). Then less than two days later, Venus passes superior conjunction with the Sun (on the other side). Watch for this most brilliant planet this fall and winter.

While the deep southern constellations are making a fine impact on the nightly sky, we can't neglect the northern ones. As the sky darkens, Bootes and Arcturus (the brightest star of the northern hemisphere) lie high to the south. Together they begin a string of fine constellations that extends to the east, starting with the graceful curve of Corona Borealis, which leads the eye to the dimmer figure of Hercules. Then farther along you can hardly miss brilliant Vega: number two in brightness in the north, just behind Arcturus. Look for the pretty parallelogram of Lyra to the southwest of Vega. The quintet finishes with first magnitude Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, which tipped upside down becomes the Northern Cross. Beyond Cygnus, which holds a wonderful part of the Milky Way, lies Pegasus and autumn, and it's too early to think about that.
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