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

Moon halo

Photo of the Week.Made by moonlight refracting through high ice crystal clouds, a striking 22-degree halo with an upper tangential arc surrounds the Moon.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 19, 2009.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule.

The week begins with the Moon in a thin waning crescent phase nicely visible to the east-northeast in morning twilight as it heads towards new on Monday the 22nd. The morning of Saturday, June 20, the crescent will make a pretty sight with the Pleiades, the cluster lying down and to the left of the Moon. The last sight of the Moon will be the morning of Sunday the 21st, when the very thin crescent will be seen up and to the left of Mercury, which is making its best appearance for this round (though not a very good one, the planet hard to spot).

Then we flip past new Moon into evening skies and the waxing crescent, which first becomes visible in western twilight the evening of Tuesday the 23rd. The night of Thursday the 26th, look for the Moon, Regulus (in Leo), and Saturn to be all in a line stretching up and to the left of the Moon along the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun. Less than a day after new, the Moon passes perigee, where it is farthest from Earth, the coincidence with the phase bringing especially high tides to the coasts.

The biggest news for the week involves the Earth and Sun, as the Sun will pass the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini the night of Saturday the 20th, or the morning of Sunday the 21st, depending on just where you live. Astronomical summer then begins at 1:46 AM Eastern Daylight Time or 12:46 CDT on the 21st. But farther west, its 11:46 MDT, 10:46 PDT, on the 20th (subtract another hour for Alaska, three hours for Hawaii). On these two days, the Sun will rise as far northeast as possible and similarly set in the far northwest. Overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, it will be as high at noon in temperate zones as possible as well.

Rising ever earlier, Jupiter now comes up in the southeast around 11:30 PM Daylight Time, and crosses the meridian to the south in morning twilight just before sunrise. By that time, brilliant Venus will be well up, having risen around 3 AM, before dawn begins to light the sky. At the same time, look for much fainter Mars, which rises with Venus. Back into the evening, Saturn, still to the east of Regulus, is becoming strictly an evening object, setting just after midnight. At the same time, look for much fainter Mars, which rises with Venus. In lesser planetary news, Pluto begins retrograde motion (which, given Pluto's distance, does not amount to much) on Tuesday the 23rd.

It's Arcturus season, the bright orange star of Bootes, the Herdsman, passing high to the south around 9 PM. Then as Arcturus moves to the west, we watch a parade of constellations that include the semi-circle of Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), dim Hercules, then bright Vega in Lyra (the Harp) and Deneb in Cygnus, the Swan, the star also marking the top of the Northern Cross.
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