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. The Moon, near setting, magically illuminates ranks of passing clouds.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, December 2, 2005.

The "Star of the Week" celebrates its 400th star!

The Moon grows through its waxing crescent phase this week, hitting first quarter on Thursday, December 8, after which it begins to expand through the waxing gibbous ("waxing" from old English, "to grow bigger," related to the German "wachsen" of the same meaning). The night of Saturday the 3rd finds the Moon low above the southwestern horizon, while the following night, Sunday the 4th, it makes a near classic pairing with brilliant Venus, the Moon to the left of the second planet from the Sun, an event well worth the look in twilight, the nighttime side of the lunar disk illuminated with Earthlight. On Monday the 5th and Wednesday the 7th, the Moon respectively passes south of Neptune (still in Capricornus) and Uranus (in Aquarius).

In the deep southwest, Venus, still setting around 7:30 PM, well over an hour after the end of twilight, is still slightly increasing in brightness. Maximum brilliance will be reached on Friday the ninth. Venus, third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon, is visible in full daylight -- if you know just where to look or are lucky to happen on to it. In the other direction, it is not difficult to find number five in brightness, Mars, which is well up in the east as the sky darkens.

The sky is exhibiting some remarkable symmetry. In southern Aries, Mars crosses the meridian to the south about 9:30 PM, just half an hour later than Saturn rises in Cancer. Then, if you can stay awake or get up early, follow Saturn until it crosses the meridian at 4 AM, just about the time Jupiter (number four in brightness) rises and Mars sets. Finally, as twilight begins, Mercury rises, the little planet barely visible in the light of growing dawn.

Among the most enchanting of constellations, Cassiopeia, with her "W" and "Chair," rides high above the North Celestial Pole in mid- evening. In a dark sky, it is seen set into a lovely part of the Milky Way that comes out of Perseus and then departs to the west into southern Cepheus. Between Cassiopeia and Perseus (and technically in the latter), you might spot the fuzzy ball that makes the famed Double Cluster, the only known case of a "binary" cluster, the two -- 7700 light years away -- moving through space as twins, together since birth. Then look low to the far northeast to see if you can catch the climbing front bowl stars of Cassiopeia's opposing figure, the Big Dipper of Ursa Major.
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