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 .

sea and sky

Photo of the Week.. A blue sky watches over a blue-green sea.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 13, 2004.

Skylights is presented two days early this week.

We begin the week with Friday the 13th's morning sky, in which we see the slim crescent Moon lying just up and to the left of Saturn, both in Gemini and to the south of Pollux. The Moon then rapidly disappears from the nightly sky and reaches its new phase on Sunday, August 15. It will reappear in evening twilight on Tuesday the 17th as a still-slim crescent, but now lying to the right of Saturn's brother planet Jupiter. The night of Wednesday the 18th provides better lunar viewing, as the Moon heads for first quarter, to be passed next week.

As Jupiter sinks ever deeper into evening twilight, Saturn climbs out of dawn, the ringed planet now rising around 3:30 AM Daylight Time. The morning show -- for that matter really the planetary show -- belongs to Venus , which rises over half an hour before Saturn, and indeed as early as it will rise this year. On Tuesday the 17th, the brilliant planet will pass greatest western elongation, at an angle of 46 degrees to the west of the Sun. At that time the telescope will show it in a "half phase," wherein we see the planet half in daylight, half in night. From here on out, the planet will appear ever more in a fattening gibbous phase. Though Venus now begins a slow slide down the morning sky, it will remain nicely visible throughout the rest of the year, finally rising only as dawn begins shortly before the year turns to 2005. In stark contrast, Mercury and Mars, both still to the east of the Sun, invisibly pass conjunction with each other on Monday the 16th. In between twilight and dawn, passing to the south around local midnight, we find the lonely outer planets, Uranus and Neptune, the former in Aquarius, the latter still dimly glowing among the stars of Capricornus.

As Ursa Major's Big Dipper falls silently into the northwestern sky, Cassiopeia's "W" rises in the northeast. Directly west of Cassiopeia is her much dimmer husband, King Cepheus. Farther west yet around the pole is Draco, which winds around the Little Dipper of Ursa Minor, ending in a boxy head that with a star in Hercules makes a prominent diamond figure. Follow a line now to the south and arrive at the Hercules' prominent (at least in a dark sky) four- star "Keystone." Wait until later at night to watch the rising of Perseus, and of the lovely star stream than makes much of Andromeda, the maiden rescued by Perseus, who rides the winged horse Pegasus, known by its Great Square. At the center of it all, around which they all seem to go, is solid Polaris, which lies at the end of the Little Dipper's handle close on to the North Celestial Pole.
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