LISTEN to this week’s Sky Report
This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The brightest planet, Venus, and the second-brightest planet, Jupiter, continue to draw closer together and make an attractive sight shortly after sunset. The two are in the west-southwest, Venus below Jupiter, and set in the west and west-northwest at 9:00 p.m. and 10:50 p.m., respectively. The apparent separation between the planets shrinks from 26 degrees to 20 degrees during the week. On Sunday, February 19, observers with telescopes can watch the tiny shadow of Jupiter’s moon Io cross the disk of Jupiter starting at 8:40 p.m., P.S.T.
At nightfall, the brilliant, sparkling star Sirius of Canis Major, the Big Dog, is visible in the south. The distinctive constellation Orion the Hunter is 23 degrees to the upper right of Sirius. This week, you can help fight light pollution by counting the stars that you can see in this region of the sky. This month’s Globe at Night campaign for observations runs through February 20. The Globe at Night website (which links to an App that will help you make and report your findings) is found at www.globeatnight.org.
The orange-hued planet Mars, in Leo the Lion, almost rivals Sirius in brightness, but shines with a steadier light. It attracts attention in the eastern sky by 8:00 p.m., and is best observed through a telescope when high in the south a couple hours before or after its transit, which occurs this week at about 1:30 a.m. Mars’ north polar cap and volcanic Tharsis region face Los Angeles during the best observing times.
Planet Saturn, not far from Virgo the Maiden’s brightest star, Spica, is visible in the southeast before midnight and is high in the south at dawn. Its rings are tilted 15 degrees in our direction and are spectacular in almost any telescope.
The moon is visible as a waning crescent in the early morning until the 20th. It becomes new on the afternoon of the 21st. Its rising time advances about 45 minutes per night, from 2:29 a.m. to 5:31 a.m. between the 16th and the 20th.
Seventh magnitude-binocular-comet Garradd is circumpolar starting on Sunday the 19th, meaning that it is in the sky all night long staring on that date. It is best seen in the early morning, before moonrise, when it is about 35 degrees high in the northeast, to the upper right of the head of Draco the Dragon. Information for finding comet Garradd can be found under the astronomy links at www.heavens-above.com.
Monday is the 50th anniversary of the first American to orbit the earth, the flight of John Glenn in his project Mercury capsule, Friendship 7. To celebrate this event, I will deliver a free talk on Sunday, February 19, at 4:00 p.m. and repeated at 6:30 p.m. in Griffith Observatory’s Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. See you there.
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, 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, February 25.
The Sky Report is updated every Wednesday. It may be read and heard on our website, and is found by following the Sky Information links. From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at email@example.com.