Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

Scout Report Selection Webivore Selection SpaceCareers Selection

Skylights featured nine times on Earth Science Picture of the Day: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 -- Full List Restored!

Venus and Mercury

Photo of the Week.. In October of 2001, Venus and Mercury visited each other, Venus the brighter of the pair.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 17, 2012.

Our glorious Moon begins the week and its phase cycle at the same time by going through its new phase on Friday, August 17. Visible by the evening of Sunday the 19th, it then spends the remainder of our week as a waxing, growing, crescent. Look for Earthlight (sunlight reflected from the bright Earth) to light up the Moon's nighttime side, allowing the whole disk to be visible. The crescent show is finally over next Friday the 24th, when the Moon passes its first quarter.

Planetary visitation just enhances the picture. Look particularly the evening of Tuesday the 21st, when in western twilight the Moon will make a striking box with Mars, Saturn, and Spica. You'll need a good horizon. Mars will be in the upper-left corner, Saturn in the upper right, Spica in the lower right. The following evening, the Moon will shine a bit up and to the left of the trio.

The triangle of Mars/Saturn/Spica will persist for a bit. Mars, however, will stretch it out by rather rapidly moving to the east relative to the other two. Look early in twilight, as the whole affair sets by 10 PM Daylight Time. The morning presentation is more visible. Jupiter starts us off by rising around 12:30 AM ensconced nicely in central Taurus to the northeast of the Hyades and Aldebaran. Just after 2:30 AM much brighter Venus launches herself above the horizon in Gemini to the southwest of Castor and Pollux. Way down below, Mercury rises just after the start of morning twilight. The week also finds the Moon going quietly through its perigee on Thursday the 23rd, when it is closest to the Earth, and (stretching the week a bit) Neptune going through opposition to the Sun a day later. The dim planet, which can be seen with good binoculars in western Aquarius, recently went through its first full orbit since discovery in 1846.

By 9 PM or so, the winter solstice, where we will find the Sun on the first day of winter, crosses the celestial meridian to the south roughly between the great figures of Scorpius and Sagittarius. Near here also lies the heart of the Milky Way, filled with dark clouds in which stars are being born. By coincidence, the winter solstice is now close (in direction) to the center of the Galaxy, which a bit over 25,000 light years away features a black hole of some four million solar masses. Though light cannot escape from inside it, the black hole is surrounded by a bright heated disk from which it both draws and ejects matter taken from its surroundings.
Valid HTML 4.0!