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

Cloud shadows

Photo of the Week. Evening clouds and shadows.

Astronomy news for the two-week period starting Friday, November 21, 2008.

The next Skylights will appear December 5, 2008.

To all those in the US, and for those abroad, a Happy Thanksgiving.

The Moon slowly disappears during most of the first week of our fortnight within its waning crescent phase, as it heads toward new Moon on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 27th. The remainder of our period finds it as a waxing crescent, which ends with the first quarter on Friday, December 5. Your last view of the waning crescent will be in dawn's light on the morning of Wednesday the 26th; then look for the first glimpse of the waxing version in bright twilight the evening of Friday the 28th. The Moon passes apogee, where it is farthest from the Earth, on Saturday the 29th.

The middle of our two-week interval will witness a superb gathering of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. The two planets have been approaching each other since Venus first became visible in evening's dusk, with Jupiter moving only slowly to the east in northeastern Sagittarius, Venus rapidly gaining on it. Watch as they converge on each other, and then pass conjunction on Sunday, November 30, when they are but two degrees apart, brighter Venus to the south of the giant planet within a beautiful setting to the northeast of the Little Milk Dipper. Venus will then rapidly whip to the east of Jupiter, the two providing a wonderful example of planetary motion. The conjunction of course is just along the line of sight, as Jupiter will be nearly 6 times farther away!

Then the Moon gets into the act by passing the two, unfortunately during the day in North America. (The crescent actually occults Venus as seen from Europe.) The evening of Sunday the 30th thus finds the Moon down and to the right of the pair, while the following evening, that of Monday, December 1, will provide us with a beautiful triangle, the growing crescent up and to the left of the planetary duo. You won't see another display like this one for some time. After all this activity, you can relax until you see Saturn rising in southern Leo to the east of Regulus within about an hour after midnight.

As an anticlimax, the Moon then goes north of Neptune on Wednesday, the 3rd. In the rest of the invisible- event category, Uranus also celebrates Thanksgiving by ceasing retrograde motion on Thursday the 27th, while Mercury passes superior conjunction with the Sun (far on the other side of the Sun) on Tuesday the 25th.

As one great celestial hero, Hercules, descends into northwestern twilight, another, great Orion (the Hunter), makes himself prominently visible by rising shortly after the end of evening twilight. Climbing ever higher as the evening progresses, he crosses the meridian to the south about 1 AM with Taurus up and to the right, brilliant Sirius in Canis Major down and to the left, Gemini and Auriga over his head, all announcing the closeness of winter.
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