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!


Photo of the Week.Cloud shadows create a stunning sunburst.

Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, December 19, 2014.

The next Skylights will appear Friday, January 2, 2015. Thanks for your patience. Best wishes for a merry and happy holiday season.

We begin with the Moon as a thin waning crescent visible in morning twilight as it approaches new on Sunday, December 21, in celebration of the passage of the Sun over the winter solstice at 5:03 PM CST (6:03 EST, 4:03 MST, 3:03 PST), which takes place the same day. Winter then officially begins as the Sun bottoms out at its extreme southerly position in Sagittarius, 23.4 degrees below the celestial equator, giving minimum heat to the northern hemisphere as well as the shortest day and longest night. The Sun will thereafter begin climbing back north toward the Vernal Equinox and the first day of spring. The morning of Saturday the 20th, the crescent will appear down and to the left of Saturn.

After new phase, the Moon advances in the evening as a waxing crescent, appearing nicely in western twilight. Look for it above Venus the evening of Tuesday the 23rd, more of less between the bright planet and Mars. The Moon appears to the right of Mars Christmas Eve, when the Moon also passes perigee, its point closest to Earth. Christmas night, the growing crescent will be up and a bit to the left of Mars. The waxing crescent terminates at first quarter on Sunday the 28th about the time of its daylight rise in North America, and it then enters the waxing gibbous phase, full Moon not reached until January 4, 2015. The Moon passes north of Neptune on Friday the 26th and just north of Uranus on Sunday the 28th, the planet ceasing retrograde motion on Monday the 22nd.

It's all about Jupiter now, the giant planet rising brightly in far western Leo to the west of Regulus just before 9 PM at the beginning of our session, an hour earlier by the end of it, Jupiter crossing the meridian to the south between 3 and 4 AM. But watch out, as Venus is coming up to rival it, our planetary neighbor now appearing low in southwestern twilight. In between we have Mars, which, still first magnitude, is good until the usual 8 PM as it treks through Capricornus. Shortly after Jupiter transits to the south and about an hour before dawn, Saturn rises just to the northwest of Scorpius's three-star head.

While some of the summer stars, including Cygnus and Lyra (with bright Deneb and Vega), are still with us early-on in the northwest, the fall stars, including Pegasus with its Great Square and the rest of the Andromeda gang, dominate the early evening as we await the stars of winter, mighty Orion rising as twilight fades. Look also in the northwest for bright Capella in the pentagon-shaped Auriga, the Charioteer.
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