Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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


Photo of the Week. Mars! As you would see it through a telescope from Earth (though right side up, not inverted as a telescope would do). The dark wedge to the upper left is the wind-swept volcanic plain Syrtis Major, the bright spot to the lower left of it Hellas, a huge impact basin. Photo by Mark Killion.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 18, 2005.

Skylights now resumes its normal weekly schedule. A happy Thanksgiving to all.

The Moon begins our week in its waning gibbous phase, then passes through third quarter on Wednesday, November 23, after which it wanes through crescent. That same morning it goes through apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth. The night of Saturday the 19th finds the Moon positioned beautifully to the south (to the right at rising) of Castor and Pollux in Gemini, making a fine triangle with them. Watch then as the near-quarter plows north of Saturn the night of Monday, the 21st.

Speaking of which, Saturn (now rising around 10 PM) passes a milestone on Tuesday the 22nd. In Cancer to the southeast of the Beehive Cluster, the ringed planet stops its slow easterly motion against the stars and begins its western retrograde" as the Earth prepares to pass between it and the Sun. The only other planetary events involve Mercury, which quite invisibly passes to the north of Antares in Scorpius (in very bright western twilight) on Friday the 18th, and then goes through inferior conjunction with the Sun (more or less between us on and Sun) on Thursday the 24th.

We don't need "events" to admire the planets, however. Look for brilliant Venus way to the southwest after sundown. Now in Sagittarius, the planet does not set until nearly an hour and a half after the end of twilight. A telescope will show the planet in a fat crescent stage (in which we see more nighttime than daylight) as it slowly moves to pass between us and the Sun. On the flip side, in the morning just before dawn, watch for the rising of Jupiter around 5 AM as Saturn transits the meridian and just before Mars (in the middle of it all) sets. The red planet, having just passed its opposition to the Sun, is now dramatically obvious to the east in early evening and outshines everything except Venus.

The northern sky is especially grand this time of year. In mid- evening the "W" of Cassiopeia (the celestial Queen) rides high above the sky's north rotation pole (and Polaris). This much-loved figure is sandwiched between the much dimmer figure of Cepheus (the King) to the northwest and glorious Perseus to the southeast, the Hero highlighted by streams of stars. South of Cassiopeia lies her mythological daughter, Andromeda, which contains the famed Andromeda Galaxy, M 31. At a distance of some 2.4 million light years, this smudge of light is the farthest thing you can see with the naked eye.
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