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!

Lunar corona Lunar corona

Photo(s) of the Week.. At left is an especially lovely and wide "lunar corona," a diffraction ring around a nearly-full moon caused by the mutual interference of light waves as they pass through high clouds made of small water droplets or ice crystals. (You see the same thing looking at a light through fogged eyeglasses.) At right is a longer exposure that over- exposes the Moon but reveals a rare second-order ring around the first one. Both were easily visible with the naked eye. A third ring was elusive.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, June 3, 2016.

The next skylights will appear June 17.

With the Moon pretty much out of the way during the first half of the fortnight, the night sky darkens, allowing the stars to shine through. We begin appropriately with the beginning Moon, the new Moon, which takes places on Saturday, June 4. With a good horizon, by the evening of Sunday the 5th you should see the ultrathin waxing crescent in western twilight. By the following night, the growing crescent should be obvious as the Moon heads towards its first quarter the night of Saturday the 11th shortly after moonset in North America. That evening the Moon will fall to the east of bright Jupiter (while appearing to the west of it the previoius night). The Moon then fattens through its waxing gibbous phase, not hitting full until next week, on June 20. The night of Thursday the 16th, our companion will shine northeast of Mars and Saturn. The fortnight begins with the Moon at perigee (closest to the Earth). Our companion then moves away from us until it hits apogee on Wednesday the 15th, where it is around 11 percent farther than it was at perigee.

As presaged above, a glorious trio of planets awaits the most casual of observers. Jupiter, to the southeast of Regulus in Leo, leads the parade. Riding down the western sky, the giant planet does not set until around midnight. We then switch our sight to the southeast, where in early evening we find reddish Mars (almost as bright as Jupiter) and, following, dimmer (though still quite bright) Saturn. To the south of the pair shines the red supergiant Antares in Scorpius, the trio crossing the sky and not setting in the southwest until dawn. Inside Earth's orbit, Mercury is barely visible in eastern morning twilight, passing greatest western elongation (24 degrees west of the Sun) on Sunday the 5th, while Venus is completely invisible as it goes through superior conjunction with the Sun (on the other side of the Sun) the following day. It will become visible in western twilight next autumn. To complete the planetary act, Neptune, in northern Aquarius near the border with Pisces (and visible in binoculars to the east of Lambda Aquarii), begins retrograde motion on Tuesday the 14th.

Mars and Jupiter together are a guide to an amazing concentration of hot massive stars in Scorpius (to the south of the planets), Lupus (farther south), and Centaurus (to the southwest). Here we find loose associations and sub- associations that have given us generations of supernovae and have cleared the local interstellar region of much of the usual gas and dust, leaving us within a "local bubble." Well to the west of Scorpius, on the other side of Libra, slithers the tail of Hydra, the Water Serpent.
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