This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, April 3, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The moon is full on Wednesday, March 27. The traditional name for the March full moon is the Full Worm Moon, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. After the 27th, moonrise happens after sunset. By Wednesday, April 3, the moon does not make its appearance until 1:06 a.m.
With the moon clearing out of the evening sky, we will be able to see comet PANSTARSS in a dark sky for the first time starting on Friday, March 29. The comet is receding from the sun and fading, but is still bright enough to be an interesting binocular or telescopic object in the right observing conditions. The comet is in the northwest sky, and is about 8 degrees high (roughly equal to one binocular field-of-view) at 45 minutes after sunset, or just before 8 p.m. The comet appears as a star with a hazy glow that sprouts upward–the tail. The comet’s tail will appear longest from mountain wilderness areas that offer a clear view of the horizon. Starting on the morning of the 29th, the comet is visible both in the evening and in the morning. It is is actually a little higher at the start of dawn, in the northeast at 5:45 a.m. The moon, however, will brighten the sky in the morning, so the darker evening sky may still offer the better view until the moon leaves the morning sky next week. On April 3rd, comet PANSTARRS will be less than 3 degrees to the upper right of the Andromeda Galaxy–M31.The two objects should make an interesting pair as seen through binoculars or in images taken through telephoto lenses.
Jupiter, in Taurus the bull, is next to the brightest star of Taurus, orange Aldebaran, and is high in the west when darkness falls. Binoculars reveal the planet’s four brightest moons, while a telescope can let you see Jupiter’s banded cloud features, the oval Red Spot, and other storms. Jupiter sets in the west-northwest at midnight.
By 11:00 p.m., the planet Saturn in Libra the Scales is easy to see low in the southeast. Saturn appears at its highest in the south at 3:00 a.m. Through a telescope, Saturn’s spectacular ring system and several of the planet’s moons are visible. Our moon appears below Saturn on Thursday night, March 28.
The double star beta Scorpii will be occulted on the morning of March 31. From Los Angeles, telescope-equipped observers will see the two stars covered by the moon’s bright limb within 18 seconds of each other at 12:03 a.m., P.D.T. The brightest star of the pair is itself a pair of stars that are too close to easily split with a telescope, but the individual stars may be revealed by the bright star’s disappearance in two steps. Beta Scorpii will re-appear at 12:55 a.m., P.D.T. at the top edge of the moon’s dark limb. The visible pair of stars will then re-appear within 18 seconds of each other.
The International Space Station will pass directly over Los Angeles at dawn on Wednesday, April 3. The brilliant satellite will cross the sky from northwest to southeast between 5:52 a.m. and 5:59 a.m., P.D.T., and will pass directly overhead at 5:55 a.m.
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 through Griffith Observatory’s telescopes Tuesday-Sunday before 9:30 p.m. Check our website for our schedule. The next public star party on the grounds of Griffith Observatory, hosted by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Sidewalk Astronomers, and the Planetary Society, will take place between 2:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 20th.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at email@example.com.