Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

Venus Transit

Photo of the Week.. A glorious sunrise features the June 8, 2004 transit of Venus, the black dot of the planet seen at far right against the solar disk. The Sun is "flattened" as a result of refraction in the Earth's atmosphere, while the colors come from looking through layered ground haze.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 11, 2004.

The Moon, having passed its third quarter last week, now wanes in its crescent phase toward new, which it will reach during the middle of the day on Thursday, June 17. It will not have cleared the Sun enough to be visible that night, but be on the watch for it in evening twilight on Friday the 18th.

Venus, now completely invisible, has made its long-awaited transit across the disk of the Sun. Photos galore follow. The planet is now on the morning side of the Sun. Moving quickly against the stars and Sun, the planet will begin to be visible in the dawn sky toward the end of the month. In the meantime, we are losing Saturn to evening twilight, while Mars now sets as twilight comes to an end. After the grand planetary show of the last months, we are pretty much left with Jupiter, which all by itself still puts on a fine show as it slowly courses through southern Leo. The brightest thing in the evening sky (after of course the Moon), Jupiter does not set until local midnight (1 AM Daylight Time).

Perhaps with "ancient" planets mostly gone, it is time to recognize the outer ones. Uranus, in Aquarius, began its retrograde motion last Thursday, the 10th, while that distant outpost Pluto passes opposition to the Sun as the week begins, on Friday the 11th. The tilt of the planet's orbit is so great that it can quite leave the Zodiac. For years, Pluto has been ensconced within southern Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer). Only within the past year or so has it finally changed its starry home, as it has now crossed the border over into Serpens (the Serpent). Serpens is the only constellation broken into two non-contiguous parts, Serpens Caput (the Head of the Serpent) and Serpens Cauda (the Tail). Moving at a leisurely rate of just under 1.5 degrees per year, Serpens Cauda will be Pluto's home for the next few years. The little body, only 2/3 the size of our Moon, is as much a part of the extended Kuiper "debris" belt as it is a planet.

Serpens and Ophiuchus are now approaching evening visibility. Well up now in the far northern hemisphere is Ursa Major, which contains the Big Dipper. Well to the west of the Dipper is the set of stars that comes to a bit of a point that makes the head of the Bear. Western Ursa Major is to the northern hemisphere as Carina, the Keel of Argo, is to residents of the southern hemisphere, who see the latter slipping inexorably to the west as we approach northern hemisphere summer and southern hemisphere winter.
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