Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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


Photo of the Week. The daytime waning gibbous Moon seems to float amidst light clouds.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 2, 2009.

The Moon starts us off very late in its waxing gibbous phase, then hits full the night of Saturday, October 3, about midnight in North America with it crossing the meridian to the south just barely to the east of the Vernal Equinox in Pisces, making it about the most perfect full Moon possible. The remainder of the week is spent with the waning gibbous phase. The night of Friday the 2nd the Moon passes well to the north of Uranus, and that is about it for lunar conjunctions.

But better is yet to come, especially in the morning hours. On Monday the 5th, Mercury goes through its greatest western elongation, making it visible in morning twilight (the planet rising at dawn, around 5:30 AM Daylight Time). Then on the morning of Thursday the 8th, the little planet passes just 0.3 degrees south of Saturn, which is now starting to clear the Sun (Mercury notably the brighter of the two). Though much brighter Venus, coming up at 5 AM Daylight Time, is rising ever later, it cannot quite make a Mercurian conjunction. But it comes close. Look the morning of Tuesday the 6th (give or take a day) to see Venus, Mercury, and Saturn all in a row descending toward the horizon, Venus of course dominating, Mercury a distant second, and finally Saturn. Adding to the show, Regulus in Leo shines above them all.

Moving westward, find Mars. Rising shortly after midnight Daylight Time, the red planet moves out of classical Gemini as it heads towards Cancer. The night of Monday the 5th, it passes six degrees south of Gemini's Pollux.

That leaves evening's Jupiter. Dominating night skies, it crosses the meridian to the south around 9:30 PM. If you have binoculars, hold them steadily and you might see a couple of the planet's four large moons. Jupiter is with us until about 2:30 AM, when it sets, about two hours after Mars rises.

In mid-evening, admire Deneb and Cygnus nearly overhead. Then look to the west to find bright Vega in Lyra, and continuing on to see dimmer Hercules, while Arcturus lingers over in the northwest. Wait then until near midnight to see the Great Square of Pegasus lift itself above the eastern horizon.
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