This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
An X-5 class solar flare–said to be the most energetic in years–erupted from the giant sunspot group AR 1429 on March 6 at 4:28 p.m., P.S.T. The flare is expected to cause a large geomagnetic storm that will commence some time between 4:30 p.m., P.S.T., Wednesday, March 7 and 5:30 a.m., Thursday, March 8. The most likely arrival time is 1:35 a.m., P.S.T. on Thursday morning. While large geomagnetic storms can play havoc with communication and other electrical systems, they will certainly produce widespread auroral displays, sometimes even visible from as far south as Los Angeles or even Mexico. Because of bright light pollution, Los Angeles area residents will need to take a trip to the mountains or deserts north of the city, far from urban areas, to see the auroral glow that–if it happens–will appear as a red glow above the northern horizon, competing unfortunately with the light of the full moon. Updated information is available on www.spacewather.com.
Remember to make your clocks “spring forward” before you sleep on Saturday night. Daylight Saving Time starts on Sunday morning, March 11. At 2:00 a.m. Standard Time, clocks are set ahead one hour to 3:00 a.m. Standard Time will return on November 4. In the United States, only Hawaii and Arizona do not observe Daylight Time.
Venus, the brightest planet, and Jupiter, the second brightest planet, continue to put on an interesting show in the west, shortly after sunset. The planets start out with Jupiter above Venus on the 7th, but are side–by–side and only 3.2 degrees apart on Monday the 12th. Jupiter appears lower than Venus on the following night.
Venus is now bright enough to see without optical aid during broad daylight, if the sky is clear. A good time to look is when it is highest in the sky as it transits above the south point of the horizon. This week the transit happens due south, about 70 degrees high, at 2:50 p.m., P.S.T. or 3:50 p.m. P.D.T. Binoculars, if first focused on something far away like a distant jet or a feature on the horizon, can make finding Venus easier in the daytime.
The planet Mars, in Leo the Lion, is now pulling back from its close approach of last week and is now making its best evening appearance for the next 26 months. The planet is visible as a bright orange “star” in the east when darkness falls, and is highest and above the southern horizon, at about midnight. The 12-inch Zeiss refractor on the roof of the Observatory will show Mars to the public starting at 8:30 p.m. at least through Sunday, March 11. Please note that the last person in line each night at our telescopes must look by 9:45 p.m., so plan to join the line by about 8:30 p.m. before it is cut off to ensure closing on time.
The moon is full on Wednesday night, March 7, and is close to Mars in the sky all night. By the next night, the moon, in waning gibbous phase will rise at 6:43 p.m. P.S.T., after sunset. By the 14th, its rising time will be at 1:23 a.m., P.D.T.
The ringed planet Saturn is close to Virgo the Maiden’s brightest star, Spica. This pair is noticeable in the southeast by 10 p.m. and is highest in the south at about 3:00 a.m. Note that Saturn is slightly brighter than Spica, and shines steadily, with a golden hue. Through a telescope, the north side of its rings are visible, titled about 14 degrees in our direction. The moon passes near Saturn and Spica on Sunday morning, March 11.
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-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, March 31.
The Sky Report is updated every Wednesday. It can be read and heard on our website by following the Sky Information links. From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.