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 .

Sub Sundog

Photo of the Week.. A "sub-sundog" appears in clouds below a speeding aircraft, caused by sunlight refracting in ice crytals.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 1, 2003.

The Moon waxes through its gibbous phase the early part of the week, and passes full the night of Monday, the 11th, just about midnight when the Moon is highest in the sky in North America, not that it will be all the high, as with the Sun crossing into western Leo, the full Moon will be well to the south in Capricornus. On Monday the 11th, the Moon will glide south of Neptune, while the night of Tuesday the 12th, it will pass south of Uranus, then during the day on Wednesday the 13th (for the Americas) to the north of Mars . The night of Tuesday the 12th, look for the Moon to the east of the red planet (which is now rising around 9:30 PM Daylight Time), while the night of Wednesday the 13th sees the Moon to the northeast of the planet.

Mars, amazing Mars, the most earthlike of all planets, is getting ever closer to its rendezvous with Earth on August 27-28, when it will be closer to us, 34,646,400 miles, than any time within about the last 50,000 years. As a result, it will be at its very brightest, exceeding Jupiter in apparent luminosity, its reddish color brilliant against the black of night. However, we need to keep some perspective. Because of the eccentricity of its orbit, Mars goes through a 17 year cycle of oppositions with the Sun, which are about two years apart. When an opposition occurs when Mars is farthest from the Sun, at its aphelion, it is double its distance than when it is at perihelion (the latter called a "favorable opposition.") Mars is simply having an especially good favorable opposition, but one that is not all THAT much better than many others we have had. Its special closeness is more a curiosity than anything very noticeable. While the planet will be bright and beautiful (as it is now), it will not be so overwhelming as perhaps anticipated by many. Just enjoy a special time, and if you can, admire its still-small disk in a telescope, which will allow a view of some dark markings and perhaps a polar cap.

Mercury, ignored in news of Mars, makes something of an appearance in the evening sky, as it reaches greatest eastern elongation with the Sun on Thursday, the 14th. The low angle of the ecliptic to the horizon will make the planet difficult to see, however. Saturn is a bit better, the ringed planet now rising about 3 AM Daylight Time.

August is the traditional best month for meteors, as the Perseids peak the morning of Wednesday, the 13th. The periodic meteor shower, which brings one to two meteors per minute to the morning sky, will be largely destroyed this year by light from the nearly full Moon. At least one can admire Perseus climbing in the northeast. In the evening, cast your eye toward striking Scorpius (the Scorpion), with its curved tail and bright Antares, the constellation crossing the meridian to the south as evening descends. To the southwest of it is Lupus, the Wolf, and below it -- if you are far enough south -- you can see the stars of Ara, the Altar.

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