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!

Transit if Venus

Photo of the Week. Ready for another transit of Venus picture? This one was taken with a hand-held camera and filter. Note the vague sunspots down toward center and the distinct darkening at the edge, which tells that the Sun is a sphere and that the solar "surface" is a partially-transparent gas.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 22, 2012.

Starting in its thin waxing crescent phase visible in the western evening sky, our Moon passes through its first quarter the night of Tuesday, June 26, roughly as it approaches its setting time. It thereafter waxes a bit in the gibbous phase, full Moon not achieved until well into next week. The night of Saturday the 23rd, the crescent will appear below Regulus in Leo. The nights of Monday the 25th through Wednesday the 27th, we see the Moon play with Mars and Saturn, first appearing below the red planet, then the next night (that of the first quarter) to the left of Mars and below Porrima (Gamma Virginis), finally on the last night of our trio winding up making a fine triangle with Spica (up and to the left) and Saturn (above).

The leading news involves distant Saturn and nearby Venus, both of which cease their westerly retrograde motions against the stellar background and begin moving easterly again (Saturn the morning of Tuesday the 26th, Venus much later on the same day). That means that Saturn is done encroaching on Spica in Virgo (the planet now a few degrees to the north of the star and still notably the brighter), and will now slowly begin moving away from it as it heads in the direction of Libra. Well into the west as the sky darkens, the ringed planet now sets around midnight.

On the other side of the sky, Venus is beginning to make a strong appearance, brightly rising about as dawn begins to break. As long as we are here, look for Jupiter shining above it, the giant planet rising about half an hour before Venus. The morning of Friday the 29th will provide a nice easterly lineup (from bottom to top) of Aldebaran in Taurus, Venus, Jupiter, and Taurus's Pleiades. You will need a clear horizon; binoculars will help. Back into evening's west, we look for Mars. Setting just before local midnight (1 AM Daylight), the planet is moving easterly through western Virgo (well to the southeast of Regulus) as it heads towards Saturn and Spica. Also in western evening twilight, we might spot Mercury, seen down and to the right of the crescent Moon the night of Friday the 22nd.

It's the season for Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern hemisphere, which shines high on the meridian around 9 PM to the southeast of the Big Dipper. To the northeast find the semi-circle of Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, which lies between Arcturus's Bootes (which stretches like a kite to the north-northeast) and the pair of boxes that makes central Hercules
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