Griffith Observatory Sky Report through February 28, 2018

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through February 28, 2018. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.

Venus is now bright and easy to see in the western sky shortly after sunset. Look for the brilliant planet more than five degrees above the horizon at 6:00 p.m. Venus is moving higher and becomes easier to see night by night, and as a result, it sets at 6:30 p.m. on the 21st and at 6:44 p.m. on the 28th.

The waxing moon is crescent before it reaches first quarter phase on the 23rd. After that, it is gibbous on the following nights leading up to the March 1st full moon. The time of moonset advances from 11:37 p.m. on the 21st to 5:32 a.m. on the 28th. The moon is currently featured through the public telescopes at Griffith Observatory.

At dawn, the planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are easy to see, forming a long line that crosses the southern and southeastern sky. Orange Mars, in the constellation Ophiuchus the Snake Bearer, is between brilliant Jupiter, to the upper right of Mars, in Libra the Scales and golden Saturn, to the lower left of Mars in Sagittarius the Archer. The bright star Antares, in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, now resembles Mars in color and brightness, and it is located ten degrees to the lower right of Mars. Ten degrees is nearly equal to how wide your clenched fist appears to you when held out at arm’s length. The name Antares means “the Rival of Mars” in ancient Greek.

Rescheduled from last week, a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located 150 miles to the west-northwest of Los Angeles, should be visible about 13 minutes before sunrise on Thursday, February 22. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will attempt to launch a Spanish government radar imaging satellite called Paz at 6:17 a.m. At Los Angeles, the launch takes place in the direction opposite that of the imminent sunrise, so the illumination of the rocket’s exhaust is not expected to be as spectacular as the back-lit evening Falcon 9 launch last December. There will be no attempt to recover the first stage of this rocket, which had once before launched a satellite from Vandenberg. Nevertheless, a new robotic ship called Mr. Steve, will attempt to recover one of the rocket’s three million dollar fairings, the aerodynamic covers that enclose the satellite at launch.

Only the moon will outshine the International Space Station as the ISS sails high above Los Angeles in the early morning sky on Sunday and Wednesday. On Sunday the 25th, the space station crosses the sky from the southwest to the northeast between 5:54 and 6:01 a.m. It will be nearly overhead at 5:57 a.m. On Wednesday the 28th, the ISS will suddenly emerge into sunlight from Earth’s shadow when it is already 70 degrees high in the west at 4:57 a.m. It is 74 degrees high in the northeast a few seconds later, then it descends to the northeast horizon and sinks from view at 5:00 a.m.

Free views of the Sun during the day and of the moon and other interesting celestial objects at night are available to the public in clear weather through Griffith Observatory’s telescopes from Tuesday through Sunday, before 9:30 p.m. Check our website for the schedule. The next free public star party on the grounds of Griffith Observatory, hosted by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Sidewalk Astronomers, and the Planetary Society, will take place this Saturday, February 24th, from 2:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.

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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at