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 -- Full List Restored!

Lunar halo

Photo of the Week.. The 22-degree halo around the nearly full Moon, caused by refraction of moonlight through the sides of hexagonal ice crystals. Note the subtle color, red on the inside, shading to blue on the outside.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, November 16, 2012.

The next Skylights will appear on Friday, November 30.

The Moon starts us off in its waxing crescent phase as it heads toward first quarter on Tuesday, November 20, during daylight hours in North America, so it will rise that night just past the phase. It then grows as a waxing gibbous, which ends with full Moon on Wednesday the 28th, also during daylight with the Moon out of sight. It thus rises that night just after sunset and a bit into the waning gibbous, which occupies the remainder of our fortnight.

The early evening of Friday the 16th finds the waxing crescent up and to the left of fading Mars. Much more visible, indeed rather spectacular, will be a close encounter between the Moon and bright Jupiter, the two rising the night of Wednesday the 28th with Jupiter on top (the Moon occulting the planet as seen from southern South America). Vastly less visible are passages between the Moon and the outer bodies of the Solar System: Pluto on Friday the 16th, Neptune on Tuesday the 20th, Uranus on Friday the 23rd. Of more interest is the Moon going through its apogee on Wednesday the 28th just a few hours past full phase, which will notably weaken the high and low tides at the coasts.

Mars sets its usual half hour past sunset. On the other side of the sky, Jupiter rises while brighter twilight is still fading (the planet in Taurus to the northeast of Aldebaran and the Hyades). Just shy of opposition to the Sun and up nearly all night, Jupiter transits the meridian high to the south shortly before midnight. Venus then rises around 4:30 AM while the sky is still dark and is well up at dawn. During most of our period, Saturn rises just after Venus. Catching up with Venus, the two will lie within a degree of each other the morning of Monday the 26th with Spica up and to the right and Mercury (which goes through inferior conjunction with the Sun on Saturday the 17th) down and to the left. By the end of the week, the star and three planets are all in a nice row, Spica, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury, that descends down and to the left toward the horizon.

Early in the fortnight, on the morning of Saturday the 17th you might catch a few meteors from the much weakened Leonid shower. They are the leavings of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which in a 33-year period last passed closest to the Sun in 1998.

The stars of autumn are now in full glory. Look in early evening for the Great Square of Pegasus high to the south with the stream of Andromeda's stars coming off its northeastern corner. To the north of them, Cassiopeia's "W" rides high, while to the south bright Fomalhaut rides low above the horizon.
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