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 .

Algol max Algol min

Photos of the Week.. Algol, the bright eclipsing double star in Perseus, is the brightest star in the left-hand half of each picture. In the photo at left, the star is in its normal unellipsed state. In the photo at right, the star is at mid-eclipse (the fainter component partly in front of the brighter one) and is notably dimmer, as can be seen by comparing it with other stars in the field of view. These images are now in Algol's updated story on Stars.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 12, 2004.

The week belongs to the waxing crescent Moon. We begin on Friday, November 12, with the new Moon and end the night of Thursday the 18th with the first quarter, the phase taking place around the time of Moonset in North America. The slim crescent will first be visible in the southwest the evening of Saturday the 13th. With the Sun over halfway from the Autumnal Equinox to the Winter Solstice, the crescent will be swinging low through the southern constellations of the Zodiac such that the first quarter will be seen near the Capricornus-Aquarius border. Waxing along, Earthlight on the nighttime side gradually fading away, the Moon will pass Mercury the night of Saturday the 13th, though the little planet will be quite difficult to see in bright twilight. The Moon actually occults, or passes in front of, Mercury, but only from the ice cap of Antarctica. On the night of Wednesday the 17th it passes well to the south of Neptune in Capricornus. Just two days after new Moon, our satellite will pass perigee, where it is closest to the Earth in its monthly round.

Aside from elusive Mercury, the ancient planets (those known since ancient times) have but one evening representative, Saturn , which is now rising in eastern Gemini around 9 PM. A telescope at 40 power or above reveals the planet's magnificent ring system. All the big planets have rings (disks made of finely divided icy debris), but none like Saturn (those of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune dark and very hard to see).

Planetary glory really belongs to the morning sky, where Venus and Jupiter rule together in their brilliance. Following their November 4 conjunction, Jupiter has steadily moved to the west of Venus, and now rises about 3 AM, roughly an hour before Venus. A telescope quickly reveals up to four of Jupiter's moons (which can actually be seen in binoculars) and Venus's gibbous shape. On the morning of Tuesday the 16th, Venus will pass four degrees to the north of the first magnitude star Spica in Virgo. An hour after Venus rises, just before the beginning of twilight, up comes much dimmer reddish Mars

The Leonid meteor shower traditionally peaks the morning of November 17, but the 19th will see some action too, though not as great as in years past.

Beautifully climbing the eastern sky at sundown are the classic constellations of northern Autumn. By late evening Cassiopeia -- noted by the upside-down "W" -- is nearly overhead, Andromeda to the south, while the northeast is graced by the star streams that make Perseus, the Hero and rescuer of Andromeda. Following well behind Perseus, lighting up the far northeast in late evening, is Capella in Auriga, the most northerly of the set of first magnitude stars.
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