This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
Venus, the brightest planet, will grab your attention if you look to the west-southwest after sunset. Venus sets nearly 90 minutes after sunset.
The innermost planet, Mercury, is visible close to Venus this week. The best time to look is about 5:15 p.m., and binoculars will help you to find the planet. Between the 16th and the 23rd, Mercury will move from 2 degrees to the lower left of Venus, to 6 degrees to the lower right of Venus, slowly fading all the time. In a telescope, Mercury’s phase will wane from gibbous to crescent.
The giant planet Jupiter, second in brightness to Venus, is easy to find in the east shortly after sunset. In the constellation Aries the Ram, Jupiter stands out nearly all night long, appearing 67 degrees above the southern horizon at 10:00 p.m., then setting in the east-northeast at about 4:15 a.m. Steadily held binoculars can show its four largest moons, and a telescope will reveal dark cloud belts and other atmospheric features.
Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1) is best seen as soon as the sky grows dark-at about 6:15 p.m. It is then about 20 degrees high in the west-northwest in the southeast portion of the constellation Hercules, appearing through binoculars as a fuzzy star of about 6th magnitude. When seen through a telescope in a sky free of light pollution, it reveals a short, fanlike tail.
The rising time of the moon advances from 10:05 p.m. to 4:46 a.m. between the 16th and the 23rd, waning from gibbous phase to last quarter on the morning of the 18th, and appearing crescent after that.
When dawn starts, rust-hued planet Mars is easy to see as the brightest star-like object in Leo the Lion. Still very distant and tiny even in a high-powered telescope, the most obvious thing to see through a telescope will be the slightly gibbous phase of the planet, now about 90-percent full. The waning gibbous moon passes 9 degrees south of Mars on Saturday morning, the 19th.
Saturn, in Virgo the Maiden, appears just 10 degrees above the eastern horizon at the start of dawn. The moon will be 7-degrees north of Saturn on Tuesday morning, the 22nd.
The best appearance of the International Space Station above Los Angeles will be on Friday morning, the 18th. The ISS will appear as bright as the planet Venus as it crosses the sky from the west-southwest to the northeast between 5:19 and 5:24 a.m., reaching up to 62 degrees high in the northwest at 5:21 a.m.
The stranded-in-orbit Russian probe to the Martian moon Phobos, Phobos-Grunt, may make a pass directly over Los Angeles on Sunday night, November 20. It should appear as bright as a first-magnitude star as it rises above the southwest horizon at 5:43 p.m. It is expected to appear nearly overhead a few seconds before 5:46 p.m., then will slip into earth’s shadow while 38 degrees high less than a minute later. Because the failed spacecraft’s orbit is quickly decaying and may re-enter the atmosphere within the next six weeks, it is advisable to re-check appearance predictions on www.heavens-above.com closer to the 20th.
If you are a fan of space flight, please check the Griffith Observatory website for information about the free “The Space Program Program” that I will host in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 18.
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, December 3.
The Sky Report is updated every Wednesday. It can be read-and now heard-on our website by following the Sky Information links. From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at email@example.com.
— Anthony Cook, Astronomical Observer