Sky Report for week ending Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:

The brightest planet, Venus, should be easy to find low in the southwest half an hour after sunset. Over the next two weeks, use binoculars to spot the innermost planet, Mercury, only 2 degrees below Venus.

The moon is new on Wednesday the 26th, and returns to visibility on the following evening. Look for it slightly below Venus and Mercury. It will appear noticeably higher on following evenings. The moon’s phase changes from waxing crescent to first quarter on Wednesday, November 2.

Venus is the brightest planet, but the real planetary highlight this month is Jupiter, in Aries the Ram. Jupiter is opposite the sun and in the sky all night on the evening of the 28/29, rising in the east-northeast at sunset. It is 68 degrees high in the south at 12:37 a.m., and sets at sunrise. Opposition is when it is closest to us, exactly four times as distant as the sun, or 360 million miles away. A telescope will reveal its disk (now 50 arcseconds across), cloud features, and its four largest moons, discovered by Galileo more than 400 years ago.

A rocket launch may be visible in the western sky from southern California this week. The NPP satellite–a test version of an environmental satellite system–is scheduled to be launched on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The first opportunity is on Friday, October 28, between 2:48 a.m. and 2:47 a.m., P.D.T. Updated launch information and live coverage of the launch can be found on

The Hubble Space Telescope makes two good showings over Los Angeles this week. The first is on Saturday evening, October 29. The orbiting telescope will appear between 6:33 and 6:41 p.m., crossing the sky from west-southwest to east-southeast. It appears highest, 38 degrees high in the south, at 6:37 p.m., P.D.T.  The HST makes a repeat performance on the next night, Sunday, October 30, between 6:30 and 6:38 p.m., appearing 38 degrees above the southern horizon at 6:34 p.m. The Hubble Space Telescope is 530 miles away from us at closest approach on both nights, and will appear as a slowly moving star of second magnitude, or as bright as the brightest stars of the Big Dipper.

The orange planet Mars, in Leo the Lion, is prominent in the morning sky. It is best seen at the start of dawn, about midway between the eastern horizon and overhead. It is approaching Leo’s bright star Regulus, with which it will be in conjunction next week. Mars is still too far away to show much detail in a telescope, although its gibbous phase might be noticeable at high magnification.

Free public viewing of the sun during the day and of the moon, planets, and other celestial objects at night, is available in clear weather five days a week (Wednesday through Sunday) through Griffith Observatory’s telescopes before 9:45 p.m. Check our website for our schedule. The next public star party of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society and the Sidewalk Astronomers is scheduled for Saturday, November 5.

The Sky Report is updated every Wednesday. It can be heard as a recorded phone message by calling (213) 473-0880. From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at