Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured five times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5


Photo of the Week.. Continuing our "thunderstorm- from the air" series we see a close-up of anvilled clouds set against the sky near sunset. Compare with the wider view.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 29, 2005.

The sky is a bit like people. At times it is wildly busy while at other times it goes on vacation. Little seems to be happening this week except that the ever-present Moon moves through its waning crescent phase towards new, which it will pass the night of Thursday, August 4. Rising ever later in the morning hours, it does not even make calls on any of the planets. Lack of "events," however, hardly turns off the beauty of the heavens, of a star-filled sky, providing that you can find a dark enough location to see the fainter ones.

Even in the brightest locations, however, you can still admire Venus and Jupiter, which now dominate the evening. As July turns to August, Venus shines brilliantly in western twilight, but still sets before twilight has finally faded away, and in fact will continue to set before twilight ends throughout the rest of August. High to the southwest as the sky darkens lies Jupiter. Though bright, it pales next to Venus, which is over six times brighter. Though Venus disappears quickly below the horizon, Jupiter -- still in Virgo to the west of Spica -- lingers through the evening until finally setting around 11 PM Daylight Time. For an hour the sky is without bright planets. And then Mars (now near the boundary where Pisces, Aries, and Cetus all meet) rises around midnight. While brighter than all but the brightest stars, Mars shines at only about a third of Jupiter's brilliance, its closeness to us offset by its small size.

Mercury and Saturn are too close to the Sun to be seen. Uranus and Neptune (respectively in Aquarius and Capricornus) are both up at sunset, but hardly make an impact on the nightly sky. Uranus is near the limit of human vision, while the viewing of Neptune requires a small telescope. And forget seeing Pluto , which requires a fairly large one. Because of its large orbital tilt relative to the rest of the planetary system, the little planet can be found well off the Sun's ecliptic path, and now lies near the boundary of Ophiuchus and the eastern half of Serpens (Serpens Cauda, the head of the celestial serpent).

Though it has moved well into the western sky, there is still plenty of opportunity to admire the brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Arcturus of Bootes (the Herdsman), which just barely beats out Vega (which is high in the east just after sundown). Just draw a line that follows the curve of the Big Dipper's handle to the south and it will pass first through the orange-colored star and then through Spica, to the south of which winds the tail of Hydra, the Water Serpent.
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