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 -- Full List Restored!


Photo of the Week.. A cloudbank moves off to the east at sunset.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, June 2, 2017.

NOTE: Sometimes the old ways really ARE the best ways. The "bullet" form of Skylights that I've been using since the beginning of the year did not work very well for me, and actually proved more difficult to put together. I also thought it was boring. Consequently, I'm returning to the narrative form and now have a script available to send via email. Thanks for your patience. It's good to be back, and thanks to those who wrote.

The next skylights will appear June 16, 2017.

'Tis the week of the Moon, or the "bright run" in astrospeak. We begin with the Moon just past its first quarter phase, then sail through waxing gibbous to full Moon on Friday, June 9, just after Moonset, and after the waning gibbous finish with the third quarter the morning of Saturday the 17th with the Moon high in the sky. The night of Saturday the 3rd, the Moon can be seen just a couple degrees north of Spica well to the south. Look well to the south of the two to find the box of stars that make the constellation Corvus (the Crow or Raven), whose top two stars point leftward back at the Spica. They may be a bit difficult to find with the Moon so bright and close. The following evening finds the rising Moon to the left of the bright planet, with Jupiter, Spica, and Corvus all in a line. The evening of Friday the 9th, the Moon will rise a few degrees northeast of Saturn, with the star Antares to the right (the star passed the previous night).

The Moon's orbit is tilted by about 5 degrees to the plane of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun), and is now oriented such that the "nodes," where it crosses the ecliptic, are this month roughly marked by the quarter Moons. Full Moon then appears a few degrees north of the solar path, and thus farther from Antares than average. The Moon is at apogee, where it is farthest from Earth by about five percent, on Thursday the 8th, near full phase, which will have the effect of diminishing the highs and lows of the tides at the coasts.

Jupiter (in Virgo) rules the mid- evening, the planet crossing the meridian to the south around sunset (so it will be a bit west of it as the sky darkens), while Venus rules the morning, rising about 4 AM just as twilight begins. the giant planet ceases retrograde motion on Friday the 9th, and will now resume normal easterly motion against the stellar background. Saturn is between, transiting just before Jupiter sets. The ringed planet lies north of the line between the classic figures of Sagittarius and Scorpius but within the boundaries of southern Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, the constellation sometimes referred to as the "13th constellation of the Zodiac." Saturn is in opposition to the Sun on Thursday the 15th, when it rises at susnset, crosses the meridian at midnight, and sets at dawn. It's almost as far south as it can get, 22 degrees below the celestial equator. Mars is still in the evening sky but is essentially invisible as it sets in bright twilight. Mercury plays the same role with dawn in the morning sky. At about the same time Saturn goes through opposition, Neptune begins retrograde motion, westerly against the stars.

This month provides a superb view of the southern sky, with this fortnight marred by the brightness of the near-full Moon. Ah, but wait 'till the next one when the sky turns dark and the Milky Way glows, coming out of Cygnus to the northeast, then cascading through Aquila with bright Altair (the southern anchor of the Summer Triangle, Scutum (the Shield), Sagittarius, and Scorpius, until it disappears below the southern horizon.

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