This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The moon illuminates the sky for a longer period each successive night as the week progresses. Its setting time changes from 10:47 p.m. to 2:06 a.m. between the 23rd and 30th. The moon waxes from crescent to first quarter phase on the evening of Monday the 28th, when it will appear near the orange Planet Mars in Leo the Lion. The moon’s phase is gibbous on following nights.
Venus is visible in the west-northwest after sunset. Its elevation drops quickly as its solar conjunction and transit approach on June 5. This week, its elevation above the horizon at sunset drops from 17 degrees to 8 degrees between the 23rd and the 30th. For comparison, remember that your clenched fist held at arm’s length appears about 10 degrees wide. A telescope will show Venus’s diameter grow from 53 to 57 arcseconds wide, while its crescent phase shrinks from 6 percent to 1 percent illuminated.
Ringed planet Saturn appears high in the southeast sky as darkness falls. It is brighter than Virgo the Maiden’s brightest star, Spica, located less than 5 degrees below Saturn. The planet’s distinctive rings are visible through telescopes and are tilted 13 degrees in our direction.
The automated Space-X Dragon cargo delivery capsule is now in orbit. The crew aboard the International Space Station is scheduled to capture and berth Dragon to the ISS on Friday morning, May 25. In the meantime, California residents will have a chance to see both the International Space Station and Dragon as the two craft rendezvous early on Thursday morning, May 24. From Los Angeles, the pair of spacecraft, within 17 miles of each other, will pass by within moments of each other between 3:32 a.m., P.D.T. and 3:34 a.m. The satellites will emerge from earth’s shadow 30 degrees high in the north, just below Polaris, the North Star, and will descend to the northeast horizon. The space station will outshine any star, while much smaller Dragon may require binoculars to see, appearing fainter than Polaris. The capture of Dragon using the robotic arm of the ISS is scheduled for 5:06 a.m., P.D.T. on Friday morning and will be carried live on NASA TV (www.nasa.gov).
Check our website for information about free public telescope viewing of the sun and nighttime celestial objects at Griffith Observatory. The next public star party will take place on Saturday, May 26. Griffith Observatory will also provide public viewing of the transit of Venus on Tuesday, June 5.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at email@example.com.