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. Rainy sky.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, June 5, 2015.

The next skylights will appear July 3, 2015.

We begin with the Moon in its waxing crescent phase as it heads toward first quarter the morning of Wednesday, June 24. By moonrise that evening our satellite will be just past the quarter as it begins its waxing gibbous phase. Full Moon is finally passed the evening of Wednesday, July 1, after which we see a bit of the waning gibbous. Look in the evening for the growing crescent to pass south of Venus and Jupiter the evenings of Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th, the three making a lovely sight as the two planets draw together. The evening of Sunday the 28th the fat gibbous will glide just to the north of Saturn and (farther down) the classic figure of Scorpius. By the next night the Moon will be well east of Saturn and northeast of Antares. The Moon goes through apogee, where it is farthest from Earth (5.5 percent more distant than average) on Tuesday the 23rd.

All eyes are now on the two brightest of planets, Jupiter and Venus, as they approach each other early in our session, then pass only a mere third of a degree apart on Tuesday the 30th, formal conjunction taking place the next day. But it's not a sight of the moment, as the two planets, Venus by far the brighter (just short of maximum brilliance), stay near each other for a good week or so. To the east of them shines the Sickle of Leo that ends in bright Regulus. Look in early western twilight for this spectacular visitation, as the pair sets around 11 PM Daylight Time. Get ready too for UFO reports and invasions by space aliens.

Well to the west of the pair, Saturn remains northwest of Antares in Scorpius, transiting the meridian to the south around the end of twilight. In the morning sky Mercury makes a poor appearance in mid- dawn, going through greatest western elongation from the Sun on Wednesday the 24th when it is also in conjunction with, north of, Aldebaran in Taurus.

Our week of wonders is not yet done. On Saturday the 21st at 11:38 AM CDT (12:38 PM EDT, 10:38 AM MDT, 9:38 AM PDT), the Sun crosses the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini (technically just across the border in Taurus), marking the beginning of astronomical summer in the northern hemisphere (winter in the southern). On that day the Sun will rise and set as far to the northeast and northwest as possible, will cross the meridian as high as possible (thus rendering maximum heating), and we will have our longest day and shortest night. Our fortnight just misses the Earth going through aphelion, where it is farthest from the Sun (by 1.7 percent), thus clearly showing that the seasons have nothing to do with solar distance.

As evening falls, look to the northeast to see the only musical instrument in the sky, Lyra, the Harp or Lyre, brilliantly lit by the star Vega, just barely the second brightest star of the sky after Arcturus to the west of it. The body of the Lyre is formed mostly by a charming parallelogram of fainter stars to the southeast of Vega. Farther to the northeast rises Deneb, the luminary of Cygnus, the celestial Swan.

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