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. Fading evening sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 28, 2013.

The night of Friday, June 28, finds the Moon at the end of its waning gibbous phase, which ends at third quarter the night of Saturday the 29th about the time of Moonrise in North America. With the Sun just past the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini, the third quarter will be a bit to the east of the Vernal Equinox in Pisces and a few degrees northwest of Uranus. Though in a dark sky the planet is visible to the naked eye, the bright Moon will render its viewing hopeless. The remainder of the week finds our companion slimming as a waning crescent, the phase ending at new Moon next week. The morning of Wednesday, July 3, the rising crescent will appear to the right of the Pleiades in Taurus, while the following morning it will be below the cluster. The morning of Friday the 5th, look for it just to the left of Aldebaran.

Venus viewing is improving in the twilight of the evening. Look in bright dusk for a bright "star" in the west northwest just above the horizon. Still elusive, the planet sets by 10 PM Daylight Time, half an hour before twilight comes to a close. The planetary sky is then saved by Saturn. Invisibly crossing the meridian to the south at sunset, the planet is well into the southwestern sky by the time you can see it, still in eastern Virgo a dozen degrees to the east of Spica, the two still making a nice, if distant, pair. We get to see the planet until a couple hours after midnight, when it sets. As June turns to July, Pluto passes opposition with the Sun. A creature of the distant Kuiper Belt of leftover debris, the faint telescopic ball of rock and ice is difficult to find amongst the myriad stars of Sagittarius's Milky Way.

Closer in, we highlight Earth, which on the morning of Friday, July 5, passes its orbital aphelion where it is farthest from the Sun, 94,509,959 miles (152.1 million km), 1.7 percent farther than average. Given the heat of summer, distance from the Sun clearly has no relation to the seasons, which are caused entirely by the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis against the orbital perpendicular.

The night sky is home to various mythical people (Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Hercules), two horses (Pegasus and Equuleus), and two centaurs that fall in between. As darkness descends, look just above the southern horizon for the bright stars of Centaurus (the eponymous Centaur), then around local midnight again to the south for Sagittarius, the Archer (marked by the upside-down "sgr-t.html">Little Milk Dipper), who holds the center of the Galaxy within his grasp.
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