Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, October 22, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:

This is the last week to see Saturn in the evening sky in 2014. Saturn, in Libra the Scales, is very low in the southwest starting at 6:40 p.m., and sets about an hour later.

Orange Mars moves from Ophiuchus the Snake Handler to Sagittarius the Archer on the 21st. It is the bright object located 17 degrees high in the southwest at the end of civil twilight (6:40 p.m.) and it sets at 9:30 p.m. On Sunday, October 19, comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) will pass only 87,000 miles from the center of Mars at 11:27 a.m., PDT (18:27 UT). The passage will be closely watched by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the newly arrived MAVEN orbiter, and, by rovers on the Martian surface. India’s MOM orbiter will also observe, as will Europe’s Mars Express. How much of a spectacle the close encounter with the comet will be, however, is very much in doubt as the comet, the first discovered in 2013, has been fading for the last few weeks, even though its closest approach to the sun is still a week away.

The encounter is during the daytime from Los Angeles, but the Virtual Telescope Project will show live telescopic images of the encounter from earth’s nighttime side, starting on the 19th at 9:45 a.m., PDT (16:45 UT). Comet Siding Spring will be located about 1/3˚ northwest of Mars during the evening of the 19th from the west coast, but will require a large astronomical telescope located at a dark site to see because of its low brightness (magnitude 11.1). Universe Today provides charts for telescopic observers to locate the comet while it is near Mars. Spacecraft observations made from Mars will be available after a few days.

The Orionid Meteor showercan be observed at its maximum on the night and early morning of October 20-21. Astronomical conditions are nearly perfect this year, as the waning crescent moon, rising close to the start of dawn, will be too faint to interfere with meteor observation. From an ideal location, free from light pollution, about 20 meteors can be seen per hour before dawn. The meteor radiant, near the club of Orion, rises at 10:30 p.m. The shower can be detected between October 2 and November 7. Fragments that were shed by comet 1P/Halley during visits to the inner solar system centuries ago produce the meteors. The fragments follow the inbound portion of the comet’s track and strike earth’s atmosphere at 41 miles per second.

A partial solar eclipse will be visible across most of North America on Thursday the 23rd. From Los Angeles, the eclipse starts at 2:07 p.m., PDT, and ends at 4:39 p.m. At eclipse maximum, 3:27 p.m., the sun will cover 45 percent of the sun’s diameter and 34 percent of its area. The greatest eclipse is visible from the Canadian arctic, where 81 percent of the sun will be covered. Observing a partial solar eclipse requires the same caution as observing the sun itself, and can be done safely only with proper equipment. Sky and Telescope has a guide for safe viewing techniques, and The Stellar Emporium, Griffith Observatory’s gift store, sells safe eclipse viewers. The Observatory and the local astronomical societies will provide free public viewing at Griffith Observatory through properly equipped telescopes. Griffith Observatory will also stream live images of the eclipse.

Jupiter, the giant planet, shines from Cancer the Crab in the early morning. It can still be seen at sunrise, 60 degrees above the southeast horizon. The waning crescent moon passes 7 degrees to the right of Jupiter on the 17th.

Free views of the sun during the day and of the moon, planets, and other 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 our schedule. The next 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 on Saturday, November 1.

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