Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Photo of the Week.Glitter path.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, May 30, 2014.

The Moon spends nearly the entire week in the waxing crescent phase, each evening climbing higher as dusk settles in. Early in the week, look for the glow of Earthlight on the nighttime side of the Moon, which allows the whole lunar disk to be seen. From the Moon, the near full Earth is far brighter than the full Moon as seen from Earth. You would have no trouble reading a book, providing of course you had a space suit with you, as the Moon has practically no air: its gravity is not strong enough to hold an atmosphere. The crescent phase is terminated at first quarter, which takes place the afternoon of Thursday, June 5, with the Moon climbing the eastern sky in daylight, giving a chance to see the exact phase.

The evening of Friday, May 30, the thin crescent will fall well down from Jupiter and to the left of Mercury, which lets the smallest planet (barring Pluto, which is another story) to be easily identified. The evening of Saturday the 31st, the crescent will be below Jupiter, then the following evening find it up and to the left of the giant planet.

Jupiter's bright light, which has dominated the evening for so long, is slowly disappearing. Still in Gemini south of Castor and Pollux, Jupiter now sets toward the northwest just half an hour after the end of twilight. The sky then belongs to Mars and Saturn. Transiting the meridian to the south shortly after sunset, the red planet, well to the northwest of the star Spica, spends the rest of the night in southwestern skies, finally setting around 2:30 AM. Though Mars has dimmed quite a lot since its opposition to the Sun in early April, it's still brighter than all but the top three stars, Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri. Still on center stage, Saturn is up pretty much all night. In central Libra, it crosses to the south about half an hour before midnight Daylight Time, and does not set until morning twilight lights the sky, by which time Venus is up low in the east. On the other side of the sky, Mercury is briefly visible in twilight to the right of the crescent Moon the evening of Friday, May 30.

Two icons are paired in northern and southern evening skies. From mid-northern latitudes, the Big Dipper rides high, while in cognate southern latitudes, Crux, the Southern Cross, does the same. Between the two, falling across both the celestial equator and the ecliptic, is Virgo, which encompasses Mars.

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