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 .


Photo of the Week.. Harvesttime Moonset. The dark band below the Moon is the setting Earthshadow.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 8, 2004.

The Moon, having passed last quarter on October 6, wanes in its crescent phase until it hits new on Wednesday the 13th. At that time it will pass so close to the Sun that it will produce a partial solar eclipse that will be visible near sunset from Hawaii and far western Alaska, but not at all from the rest of the Americas. Solar eclipses, while not seen much at any specific location, are quite common, at least two per year taking place. The lunar shadow, however, is short, so such eclipses are seen only rarely at any one location.

Eclipses of the Sun can take place only when the Moon, in its tilted orbit, passes new phase while crossing the solar ecliptic path. The alignment will be similar at full phase, so solar and lunar eclipses go together, and sure enough, we will see a fine total eclipse of the Moon the night of Wednesday, October 27, one early enough so everyone can watch, so be prepared!

If you are dedicated (and lucky) you might see an extremely thin crescent the morning of the Wednesday the 13th in bright twilight just before new phase. In the days before the eclipse, you can still watch the thinning crescent pass just south of classical Leo, near Leo's "Sickle," the morning of Saturday the 9th, to the left of Regulus (and above Venus) the morning of Sunday the 10th, below and to the left of Venus the following morning, and then just above Jupiter the morning of Tuesday the 12th as the big planet starts to climb into morning twilight. With sharp eyes you might see the Moon actually passing four degrees to the north of Venus in daytime, as Venus is quite visible in full daylight (if you know where to look). Venus now rises just before 4 AM Daylight Time, while Saturn (in Gemini) rises ever earlier, now coming up just before 12:30 AM. The evening of Thursday the 14th finds the Moon also in a thin, barely visible crescent, the lunar disk fattening over the following week.

As autumn deepens we see Cassiopeia ever higher in the northwestern sky. Following behind it is Perseus, which represents one of the great celestial heroes, the rescuer of Andromeda, whose star-streams enhance an already beautiful sky. Much of brilliant Perseus is an actually a cluster, to which most of the rest is loosely related. Among its Milky Way treasures is the distant, sparkling Double Cluster. Farther to the northeast is that most northerly of first magnitude stars, Capella of Auriga. South of Auriga and Perseus, find Taurus, the Zodiac's great Bull, which houses two more clusters, the Hyades (which makes the Bull's head) and the Pleiades, more popularly known as the "Seven Sisters" (though but six stars can be seen by most eyes). Watch too for that great harbinger of late fall, Achernar, which will appear later at night in the southeast at about the same elevation as Sagittarius, which now escapes to the west. Below Achernar, if you are far enough to the south, you might see the stars of Grus the Crane.
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