Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

Cloud Waves

Photo of the Week.. Waves of high clouds accent a turquoise sky.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 30, 2004.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule. Thanks for your patience.

We begin the week with the Moon just shy of its full phase, which it reaches on Saturday, July 31, around noon, causing the full Moon to rise a bit after sunset in North America. Since July already saw a full Moon on Friday, July 2nd, this one is by folk tradition called a "blue moon," which derives from a sort of orphanage status in which the full Moon name-of-the-month has already been taken (in North America, the month of July holding the "thunder moon" or "hay moon").

A few hours after full, the Moon passes five degrees to the south of Neptune. Then as our companion wanes in its gibbous phase toward third quarter (that phase reached next Saturday, August 7), it crosses south of Uranus on Monday, August 2. Since the Moon encounters Neptune near the lunar full phase, the planet must also be close to opposition to the Sun, which it achieves on Thursday, August 5, the planet still ensconced within Capricornus (Uranus in Aquarius south of the "Water Jar"). While Uranus is -- at bright sixth magnitude -- visible to the naked eye (though hardly under full Moon conditions), Neptune requires large binoculars or at least a small telescope to see.

As August begins, Jupiter" sets at the end of " astronomical twilight" (when the Sun reaches 18 degrees below the horizon and the sky becomes fully dark), and is increasingly difficult to see. The twilit evening of Sunday, August 1, finds it below Denebola in Leo and above and to the left of little Mercury, which is quickly disappearing as it heads toward inferior conjunction with the Sun.

Planetary glory now lies in the morning sky with Venus, which is rising almost as early as possible for this apparition, just before 3 AM Daylight Time, tucked into eastern Taurus and shining at nearly minus fifth magnitude. Complementing Jupiter, Saturn now rises at the beginning of astronomical twilight, the ringed planet slowly drifting eastward within east-central Gemini.

'Tis the season of Scorpius, the great constellation of the Zodiac that looks very much like the Scorpion it represents. For those in mid-northern latitudes, Scorpius seems to skim the southern horizon. The constellation is so far south that those living north of 47 degrees north latitude even begin to miss the lower end of the Scorpion's tail. Down and to the right of Scorpius is the bright figure of Lupus, the Wolf, which requires more southerly latitudes to admire, while directly east is the striking figure of Sagittarius, the Archer, which holds the brightest portion of the Milky Way. Far to the north of Sagittarius, and almost overhead in the early evening for northerners, find Vega in Lyra, the Harp, the star that anchors the northwestern apex of the Summer Triangle, the others of which are Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila.
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