This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, August 1, 2012. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
Interesting triangles, made of stars and bright planets, continue to attract attention in both the evening and morning skies this week. As evening twilight ends, the planets Mars and Saturn appear close to each other in the southwest, Mars appearing to the lower right of Saturn. The glittering star Spica appears just below Saturn. Each day, Mars draws closer to Saturn and Spica, making a slowly tightening triangle. A telescope will reveal the rings of Saturn. Because Saturn appears lower in the sky each night, this week will be close to the end of this year’s public observing season for the planet through our telescopes at Griffith Observatory.
In the east-northeast sky at dawn, the brightest planet, Venus, appears below the second brightest planet, Jupiter. The orange star Aldebaran, of Taurus the Bull, is located to the lower right of Jupiter. The triangle formed by these three objects will appear to lengthen over time, with Jupiter and Aldebaran appearing higher and farther from Venus as the week goes on. A telescope will reveal the crescent phase of Venus and cloud belts and moons of Jupiter.
This is a great week for watching the moon in the early evening. The moon’s phase is first quarter on the night of Wednesday, August 25. It appears in waxing gibbous phase for the rest of the week and reaches full on August 1. Binoculars and telescopes will let you see the moon’s rugged detail along its terminator, the line that separates the moon’s day and night sides. As the moon nears full, brightness differences of the moon’s surface materials are emphasized, and highlight the brilliant streaks, called rays, that appear splashed across the surface from the newest craters visible on the moon’s pocked face.
An Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled to launch the Navy Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite from Vandenberg Air Force base late on Wednesday night, August 1. More details on watching the launch in the sky, west of southern California, will be included in next week’s Sky Report.
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, the Sidewalk Astronomers and the Planetary Society is scheduled for Saturday, July 28. Griffith Observatory will hold a public event, including a star party, centered around live coverage of the landing of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, Curiosity, on Sunday night, August 5. Please check our website in coming days for details about this event.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.