Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured seven times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7


Photo of the Week. As the cold of winter approaches, look to the colorful warmth of spring skies.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 13, 2006.

Skylights once again makes the Earth Science Picture of the Day, with a dramatic lightning picture by Bruce Kaler.

We begin the week on Friday the 13th with the last quarter Moon, and then will watch it wane in the crescent phase toward new, which is not reached until Skylights' next week, on Saturday the 21st. Watch in the morning hours as the Moon gets ever closer to the eastern dawn horizon, the Earthlight on the lunar nighttime side getting ever stronger until the thin crescent just disappears into twilight. The morning of Monday the 16th, the crescent will appear just above Saturn. Our lunar companion then takes a ride through southern Leo, appearing down and to the left of Leo's luminary, Regulus, the morning of Tuesday the 17th.

Saturn is the only one of the bright planets we have left to admire, and you have either to stay up late or get up early to see it. If you do, the planet, rising around 2 AM daylight time, precedes the rising of Regulus. By the onset of dawn, they make a fine couple in the eastern sky, Saturn (above Regulus) the brighter of the two. Even though Mercury passes its greatest eastern elongation with the Sun on Monday the 16th, the low angle of the evening ecliptic against the horizon renders the little planet -- though bright -- very difficult to see. Mars (still to the east of the Sun) and Venus (still to the west of the Sun) are completely (and respectively) lost to evening and morning twilights. Jupiter, while still visible, is a tough find in evening, as it sets before twilight ends. That leaves the evening sky with Uranus and Neptune, which take accurate maps and positions to locate in their respective current constellations, Aquarius and Capricornus (Uranus actually visible to the naked eye in a dark sky).

The fading Moon allows a wonderful opportunity to see the Orionid meteor shower, whose meteors appear to emanate from the celestial Hunter. Though the broad peak runs from the morning of Friday the 20th through Sunday the 22nd, the shower will be building during much of the current week (and actually runs through most of October and into November), so take a look. Under a dark sky, at maximum you may see 20-25 meteors a minute. They are caused by the debris of Halley's Comet hitting the Earth's atmosphere. Halley's flakings come at us twice, and will hit us again next spring as May's Eta Aquarids.

No matter what the time of year, northerners can always admire circumpolar Ursa Minor and its Little Dipper, whose handle ends in Polaris, the second magnitude Pole Star, which sits close to the sky's northern apparent rotation pole (and guides the way north, its angle above the horizon even providing us with our latitude). The southern analogue is not so easy to see. Surrounding the southern celestial pole, invisible to anyone north of the equator, lies much fainter (fifth magnitude) Sigma Octantis in the modern (and very dim) constellation Octans, the Octant, the dichotomy an accident of nature.
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