Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 1, 2013

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:

The phase of the moon waxes from gibbous to full on Thursday, April 25. The traditional name for April’s full moon is the Full Pink Moon, and refers to the color of a type of flower that blooms in early spring. On following nights, the moon’s phase is waning gibbous through the start of May.

The full moon appears close to a bright object on Thursday and Friday night–the planet Saturn. Saturn will be opposite the sun in the sky–at opposition–on the night and early morning of Saturday and Sunday, April 27/28. Saturn, in Libra the Scales, will be visible all night long, rising above the east-southeast horizon at sunset, and setting in the west-southwest at sunrise. Saturn is 818 million miles away–its closest to us this year. A telescope will show the northern face of the planet’s spectacular ring system tilted 18 degrees in our direction. The rings appear unusually bright at opposition. This is because of ice crystals in the rings that selectively reflect light back towards the sun (and the aligned earth) much as the special paint used in traffic signs reflects headlight illumination back toward a driver at night.

The brightest planet, Venus, should become visible after sunset just above the west-northwest horizon sometime this week as it re-enters the evening sky for the first time since last June’s transit. If you want to be among the first to see its return to the evening sky, scan the horizon with binoculars between 10 and 30 minutes after sunset.

The bright planet Jupiter, in Taurus the Bull, is easily seen in the west-northwest as darkness falls. The giant planet sets at about 10:30 p.m.

Comet PANSTARRS C/2011 L4 has faded and is no longer visible from light polluted regions. The comet, however, is still visible through small telescopes when observed from wilderness locations shortly before dawn. Comet PANSTARRS is circumpolar, meaning that it is above the horizon all night, but is best seen in the early morning in the hour before dawn.  The comet moves north from Cassiopeia the Queen to Cepheus the King on April 30. A finder chart is available on our special comet PANSTARRS page.

The International Space Station should outshine Jupiter during its two expected passes over Los Angeles this week. The first will take place on Wednesday the 24th between 9:01 and 9:05 p.m., P.D.T. The space station will rise from the northwest horizon to a point 65 degrees above the northeast horizon a few seconds before vanishing into earth’s shadow. On Saturday the 27th, the ISS will be visible between 8:05 and 8:12 p.m., P.D.T., crossing the sky from northwest to southeast, and passing overhead at 8:09 p.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 held by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Sidewalk Astronomers, and the Planetary Society, will take place at the Observatory on Saturday, May 18 from 2:00-9:30 p.m.

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