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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!


Photo of the Week.. Dramatic sunset with glitter path.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, December 16, 2016.

The next skylights will appear December 30, 2016. Best wishes for the Holiday Season.

We end 2016 with the Moon running through its late waning phases, beginning with the waning gibbous, which ends at third quarter on Tuesday, December 20, nine hours before the Sun hits the the Winter Solstice. It then glides through its waning crescent phase until it hits new Moon on Thursday the 29th. Your last view of the waning crescent will be the morning of Tuesday the 27th with Saturn to the northwest of it. The Moon will appear to the west of Jupiter the morning or Tuesday the 22nd, to the other side the following night.

The big event is the passage of the Sun over the Winter Solstice at 4:44 AM CST (5:44 EST, 2:44 PST) on Wednesday the 21st, giving us he shortest day and longest night in the northern hemisphere. The Sun will rise as far to the southeast and set as far to the southwest as possible for any given latitude. Because of the tilt of the Earth's axis and the eccentricity of its orbit, we've already passed the time of earliest sunset, which took place on December 7, and you'll quickly see the evenings getting lighter.

Venus glows brilliantly in the southwest, You can't miss it. Mercury, though, goes through inferior conjunction with the Sun on Wednesday the 28th and is quite invisible. Mars still reliably sets in the southwest at 9:30 PM. Of lesser significance, Uranus ceases retrograde (westerly) motion on Thursday the 29th. The Moon goes through apogee, where is it farthest from Earth, on Christmas Eve.

It's Jupiter, however, that dominates much of the night, rising at 1 AM as the year comes to an end, an hour later as we open our period. Saturn remains in morning twilight.

With some luck you might see a few meteors from the underappreciated Ursid meteor shower, which peaks the morning of Wednesday the 22nd and appears to come from Ursa Minor - the Little Dipper - which is always nearly due north.

The Great Square of Pegasus and its attendant autumn constellations move off to the west to be replaced by those of winter. With the Sun at the Winter Solstice, you'll see the Summer Solstice, on the Gemini-Taurus border, high at midnight. Below will be mighty Orion with his three-star Belt and Canis Major, which holds Sirius, the brightest star of the sky.

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