Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 2, 2012

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 2, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:

The planet Venus is at its brightest on the 29th. It can even be seen in broad daylight and passes almost directly overhead at about 3:35 p.m.  At sunset, Venus appears 37 degrees above the west-northwest horizon. Through a telescope or binoculars, the planet displays a crescent phase. Venus appears to get larger and its crescent phase thinner over the next few weeks.

The moon’s phase waxes from crescent to first-quarter on Sunday morning, April 29, and is gibbous on following evenings. On Monday night, April 30, the moon appears below the triangle formed by Leo the Lion’s brightest star, Regulus, the fainter, telescopic double star, gamma Leonis, and the brightest of the trio, orange planet Mars. The moon’s setting time advances from 11:27 p.m. to 3:24 a.m. between April 25 and May 2.

The ringed planet, Saturn, is well placed for viewing through most of the night. The gold-tinted planet outshines Virgo the Maiden’s brightest star Spica and is located 5 degrees to the star’s upper left. Saturn starts the evening low in the southeast and it is 49 degrees high, more than halfway between the south-point on the horizon and directly overhead, when it transits at midnight.  A telescope will reveal the planet’s magnificent system of rings, the north side of which is now tilted 13 degrees in our direction.

The highly anticipated first commercial supply mission to the International Space Station by the Space Exploration Technology company (SpaceX) has been delayed from April 30 to May 7, but the International Space Station should keep its appointment over Los Angeles on Saturday evening, April 28. The ISS should appear almost as bright as Venus as it moves across the sky from the northwest horizon at 8:36 p.m. until it vanishes into earth’s shadow while 26 degrees high in the southeast at 8:41 p.m. From Griffith Observatory, the orbiting laboratory will pass only 12 degrees northeast of overhead at 8:39 p.m. Although the rapidly moving ISS is challenging to follow through a telescope, it is worthwhile to attempt because the space station is large enough to show considerable telescopic detail.

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 9:30 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, April 28 on the front lawn of Griffith Observatory between 2:00 and 9:30 p.m.

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