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

allende meteorite

Photo of the Week. A piece of the famed Allende meteorite shows its mystrious round "chondrules" that harken back to the beginning of the Solar System.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, December 14, 2001.

The week begins with the new Moon and throughout most of North America and Hawaii a partial eclipse of the Sun. The Moon will then quickly wax through its crescent phase, becoming readily visible the night of Sunday December 16th in western evening twilight.

Unlike last June's wonderful total eclipse, this on is "annular," that is, the Moon is a bit too far away to cover the Sun fully, the result a ring of sunlight surrounding the new Moon. The path of annularity goes across the Pacific Ocean through Central America. Northerners will see a partial bite taken out of the Sun the afternoon of Friday the 14th, the time depending on location. On the east coast, the eclipse takes place just before and around sunset, while west-coasters will see it in the early afternoon, and in the very far west, Hawaiians will see it in the morning. The amount of coverage varies from a tiny bite in the Pacific Northwest to 60 percent in the far southeastern US to 84 percent in Hawaii. Be careful NOT to look directly at the Sun! Only professionally- made proper filters or projection should be used to view the event. Simply punch a hole in a piece of paper or cardboard and let the sunlight fall on some surface, and you will see a fine solar image (do NOT look THROUGH the hole!).

After the crescent Moon clears the Sun, it will pass Mars around noon on Thursday the 20th. The night of Wednesday the 19th thus sees the Moon to the west of the red planet, the night of the 20th to the east. Earlier in the week, Saturn, retrograding westerly in Taurus, passes four degrees to the north of Aldebaran on Monday the 17th, making the color contrast between sunlit planet and the rather cool star rather obvious.

Sunlight of course heats and illuminates Earth. When the Sun is high we have a warm season, when low a cold one. At 1:21 PM Central Time (2:21 EST, 11:21 AM PST), the northern axis of the Earth leans directly away from the Sun, the Sun crosses the winter solstice in Sagittarius, winter begins in the northern hemisphere, and summer in the southern. Northerners will see the Sun as far south and as low in the sky at noon as it can get. The Sun will then gradually creep northward, but at first so slowly that the days will continue to chill as winter takes its firm grip.

With the Sun in Sagittarius, Gemini, which holds the summer solstice (and for now, Jupiter), rides high in the sky at midnight, while the autumn constellations, epitomized for northerners by Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and the rest in the Andromeda myth begin slip away to the west.
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