This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The summer solstice occurs in the earth’s northern hemisphere on Wednesday, June 20, at 4:09 p.m., P.D.T. The solstice happens at the moment when the sun, in its apparent annual path around the sky, reaches its farthest point north of the celestial equator. On this date, the sun rises as far north of east–and sets as far north of west–as it will during the year, and this is the longest day in the northern hemisphere. This day in Los Angeles is 14 hours and 26 minutes long, with the local sunrise at 5:42 a.m. and sunset at 8:08 p.m. At the same moment that summer starts here, winter begins in the southern hemisphere. Summer ends on September 22 at the autumnal equinox.
The innermost planet, Mercury, can best be seen each evening this week at about 8:40 p.m., when it is 12 degrees high in the west-northwest. Remember that your clenched fist held at arm’s length is approximately 10 degrees high. Binoculars will help you to spot the planet against the twilight glow.
The other two evening planets are Saturn and Mars, together in Virgo the Maiden starting on the 21st. Mars is midway up in the southwest as darkness falls. Saturn, having a yellow hue compared to the orange cast of Mars, is 30 degrees to the left of Mars in the south-southwest. Saturn is also conspicuously placed 5 degrees above Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. Mars now appears too small to reveal much telescopic detail, but Saturn’s magnificent rings are tilted with their north face 13 degrees in our direction. Saturn is currently a featured evening object through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The waxing crescent moon emerges into the evening sky, to the lower left of Mercury, on Thursday the 21st. On following nights it appears higher and brighter, passing Mars on Monday the 25th. The moon’s phase changes to first quarter precisely at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, June 26.
Early-risers will be treated to a view of the brightest planet, Venus, and the second brightest planet, Jupiter, grouped with Aldebaran–the brightest star of Taurus the Bull–and the Pleiades Star Cluster. At 5:00 a.m., look just above the horizon, a little north of east, to see Venus just above Aldebaran, Jupiter above Venus, and the Pleiades a few degrees above Jupiter. Through a telescope Venus, displaying a crescent phase, and Jupiter, with its four Galilean moons, are interesting targets.
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, June 23.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.