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

Moon and Venus

Photo of the Week. Remembering last summer's Venus with a 3.6-day-old crescent Moon.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, October 29, 2010.

The Moon goes through its third quarter the morning of Saturday, October 30th, around the time of sunrise in North America, giving us a nice daytime sight of the near-perfect phase. It then greets November in the waning crescent phase as it heads towards new the night of Friday, November 5. The morning of Wednesday the 3rd finds the crescent just up and to the right of Saturn (not to be confused with the star Porrima, which will lie just above the planet). The following morning, the very thin crescent will be up and to the right of Virgo's Spica. On Wednesday the 3rd, the Moon goes through perigee, where and when it is closest to Earth, not that that is a noticeable event.

We spent some weeks watching Mars, Venus, and Saturn do their dance in the western sky. Venus and Saturn have now switched into the morning hours, leaving poor Mars quite alone in western evening twilight and impossible to see without binoculars and a clear horizon. Venus is in about the same situation. It might be possible to catch it rising in dawn's light toward the end of the week. But in the days to come, it will rapidly climb upward from the horizon and be very visible toward mid-month. Saturn, on the other hand, has cleared morning twilight, rising near an hour before the sky starts to get light. Look for Porrima (Gamma Virginis) just above it, the planet notably the brighter, but similar to Spica, which lies well to the east of the planet.

As has been the case for some time now, though, the night belongs to Jupiter. Well up in the east as the sky darkens, the giant planet now transits the meridian around 10 PM Daylight Time. Drifting ever so slowly retrograde (westerly against the stars), Jupiter has just barely dipped back into Aquarius, to the south of the technical boundary with Pisces (and still to the southwest of the psc-w- t.html">Autumnal Equinox and Uranus, the two planets about three degrees apart).

It's fall, and it's time to admire lonely Fomalhaut as it drifts across the sky not far above the southern horizon. The first-magnitude luminary of Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, Fomalhaut ranks 18th in stellar brightness, and has the distinction of having a directly-imaged planet in orbit about it. With nothing but dim stars around it (you need a dark sky to catch the rest of the Fish), the star, a harbinger of autumn, truly stands out. Above it lies the gentle curve of stars that makes southern Aquarius.
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