Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the period ending Thursday, July 5, 2012

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the period ending Thursday, July 5, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:

The moon shines during most of the night all this week. The moon’s phase changes from waxing gibbous to full on the Tuesday, July 3, and appears in waning gibbous phase on the following nights.

The planet Mercury continues its appearance in the west-northwest starting at 8:40 p.m. Use binoculars to spot the planet against the evening twilight about 10 degrees above the horizon. 10 degrees is approximately how large your clenched fist looks when held out at arm’s length. Through a telescope, Mercury displays a crescent phase.

As darkness falls, the orange planet Mars is creeping closer (at half a degree per day) to the yellow planet Saturn. Looking southwest, you will notice three bright objects about midway between the horizon and zenith (the point directly overhead). The bright object to the right is Mars, now in the western part of Virgo the Maiden. 25 degrees (2½ fists) to the left of Mars are the other two bright objects. The upper, brighter object is Saturn. Below Saturn is Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. Mars is now too far away to show much in the way of telescopic detail, but giant Saturn displays its vast ring system, and is now the featured planet for public observation at Griffith Observatory. Beginning with Mars, the trio of bright objects slips below the horizon at midnight.

An early morning grouping of stars and planets can be seen by looking low in the east at 5:00 a.m. The brightest planet, Venus, is below the second brightest planet, Jupiter, in Taurus the Bull. The bright orange star Aldebaran appears below Venus, and the attractive Pleiades star cluster appears in a line with the other objects above Jupiter. A telescope will reveal the crescent phase of Venus, and the moving moons and cloud belts of Jupiter.

The International Space Station will pass over southern California on Thursday night, June 28. From Los Angeles, the ISS will cross the sky from the west-northwest to the south-southeast between 8:48 p.m. and 8:54 p.m., P.D.T. It will appear highest, 39 degrees above the southwest horizon, at 8:51 p.m.

The landing, in central Mongolia, of the 3 Chinese astronauts aboard Shenzhou 9, is scheduled for Thursday night, June 28, at 7:01 p.m., P.D.T. Live coverage is possible on the Chinese English-language news service, CCTV-9. CCTV-9 is digitally broadcast in Los Angeles on KVMD channel 31.9.

Free views of the sun during the day and of the moon, planets, and other celestial objects at night, are available to the public in clear weather six days a week (Tuesday-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, July 28.

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