Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured three times on Earth Science Picture of the Day: 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 .

Rising Sun

Photo of the Week.. A misty summer sunrise brings memories of warmer weather.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, December 19, 2003.

Best wishes for a fine holiday season.

The Moon rambles along through the zodiac toward its new phase, which it will pass on Tuesday, December 23, shortly before sunrise in North America. The early part of the week, it will appear as a slimming crescent in the dawn sky, while to the end of the week it will be seen climbing out of evening twilight. You might catch your first glimpse of it low in the southwest just after sundown on Wednesday, the 24th, Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas night we will be treated to a lovely pairing of the Moon with Venus, the Moon lying to the left of the brilliant planet, the nighttime side of the lunar disk glowing softly with light reflected from the Earth, the sight poetically called "the old Moon in the new Moon's arms." Almost exactly a day before new, the Moon passes perigee, when it is just over five percent closer than average, the combination with the new phase bringing especially high tides to the coasts.

As twilight ends, look for Saturn rising to the northeast in Gemini and for Mars transiting the meridian. Jupiter then rises in the east shortly before midnight.

The big event of the week, however, deals not with the Moon and planets, but with the Sun, which will pass the winter solstice in Sagittarius the night of Sunday the 21st to mark the beginning of astronomical winter. For North America, the actual date depends on where you are. On the east coast, the Sun bottoms out at 23 degrees 26 minutes below the equator at 2:04 AM Eastern Standard Time the morning of Monday the 22nd. In the middle of the continent, the time will be 1:04 AM CST, 12:04 AM MST, while on the west coast the event takes place at 11:04 PST on Sunday the 21st, the date also for Alaska and Hawaii (respectively at 10:04 and 9:04 PM).

At the moment of solstice passage, the Sun will appear as far to the south at noon as possible, will rise as far as possible to the south of east, and will set its maximum to the southwest. In the northern hemisphere, we will experience our least heating, shortest day, and longest night, while southern hemisphere residents will have their longest day and shortest night. The Sun will also pass overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, at a latitude of 23 degrees 26 minutes south. From that moment on, the Sun will begin to move to the north, though so slowly at first that mid-northern latitudes will continue to chill. The next passage of note will mark the beginning of spring, which will take place the morning of March 20 on the east coast, the evening of the 19th on the west, the event again closely coinciding with new Moon.

Around 8 PM look for a stack of constellations that begins with Andromeda nearly overhead in mid-latitudes, then cascades to the south through Triangulum and Aries (both flat triangles), through the head of Cetus, and then down to western Eridanus, the River, which announces the arrival heart of the winter constellations, including mighty Orion.
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