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!

Solar halo

Photo of the Week.. In contrast to the 22-degree lunar halo, here is one around the Sun. Caused by refraction through ice-crystal clouds, it is colored red on the inside, blue on the outside.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 30, 2012.

The Moon spends most of the week sailing through its waning gibbous phase until it passes third quarter on the morning of Thursday, December 6, gliding against the stars to the south of Leo. The morning of Friday the 7th then sees it just barely into the waning crescent phase. Sadly there are no planetary passages to watch.

The planets, though, do it on their own. Going from the evening's western sky, we can first pretty much ignore Mars, which, though still tracking the end of twilight (setting half an hour after the sky is dark), is ever so slowly being lost altogether. Far more interesting is Jupiter, which on Sunday the 2nd goes through opposition to the Sun. Up all night, the giant and wonderfully bright planet rises at sundown, crosses the meridian high to the south at midnight, and sets at sunrise. In celebration, retrograding (moving westerly) against the stars of Taurus, Jupiter will also pass five degrees north of Aldebaran on Friday the 7th, the two providing a nice color contrast, the planet nearly 30 times brighter than the star.

Hard to believe, but the morning sky show is even better. Venus, three times brighter than Jupiter, rises shortly before 5 AM, Saturn beating it by nearly an hour. Mercury, which goes through greatest western elongation against the Sun on Tuesday the 4th, is last up, hitting the skies at the start of morning twilight. By the time dawn has advanced a bit, the star Spica, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury will form a nice line pointing down and to the left, providing a good way of locating elusive Mercury, which never ventures very far in angle from the Sun.

Jupiter, which temporarily locates Taurus, is about as far north of the celestial equator as it is going to be for at least awhile. To the west, find the flat triangle that makes the classical figure of Aries, the Zodiacal Ram, while farther along to the southwest lies sprawling Pisces, the Fishes with its western "Circlet." To the east of Jupiter is bright Gemini, the Twins (made notable by the stars Castor and Pollux), which will embrace Jupiter later next year, the planet taking about a year to move through each of the constellations of the Zodiac.
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