This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
At sunset, the planet Venus continues to dazzle in the west-northwest. Venus starts out about one degree lower in the sky from one evening to the next as its June 5th solar conjunction and transit nears. The planet’s setting time advances from 10:37 p.m. on May 9th to 10:09 p.m. on the 16th. Through steadily held binoculars or a telescope, Venus displays a slender crescent phase.
The orange planet Mars appears as the brightest object in Leo the Lion, about 8 degrees to the east of Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. The planet now has a telescopic diameter of 9 arcseconds, making planetary details difficult to see in all but large telescopes. Mars is high in the southern sky as darkness falls.
The ringed planet Saturn is high in the southeast when darkness falls, and is located conspicuously only 5 degrees above Virgo the Maiden’s brightest star, Spica. A telescope will show the planet’s rings tilted 13 degrees in our direction. Venus and Saturn are now featured objects through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The waning moon changes phase from gibbous to last quarter on the 12th. On following mornings it appears crescent as it approaches new moon and a solar eclipse on May 20. The moon’s rising time advances from 11:46 p.m. to 3:13 a.m. between the 9th and the 16th.
The upcoming solar eclipse on the afternoon of Sunday, May 20, will be visible across the western half of the United States and will be annular along a 200-mile wide zone that stretches from southern Oregon and northern California to central Texas. No matter from where you view it, eye protection is essential! Even the ring of sunlight that remains in the central zone of the eclipse will be just as damaging to the eye as full sunlight with no eclipse. Two types of solar eclipse viewers are now available at Griffith Observatory’s gift store, the Stellar Emporium. These are also useful for seeing large sunspot groups and will work for next month’s transit of Venus.
The first commercial cargo test mission to supply the International Space Station by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has been re-scheduled to the early morning of May 19. If this date is maintained, details will be included in next week’s Sky Report.
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. Weather permitting, Griffith Observatory will provide free public viewing of the solar eclipse on May 20, and the transit of Venus on June 5. The next public star party of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society and the Sidewalk Astronomers is scheduled for Saturday, May 26, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.