This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The brightest planet, Venus, can be spotted in the north-northwest by sunset and remains visible until it sets at 9:45 p.m. Venus is on the far side of the sun in its orbit with respect to us, and through a telescope shows a nearly full disk, 90-percent illuminated.
The ringed planet Saturn is high in the southern sky in late evening twilight, to the left of Virgo the Maiden’s brightest star, Spica, which the planet outshines. Saturn and its spectacular system of rings are currently featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The planet Mars, in Taurus the Bull, can be found with binoculars by 4:50 a.m., or 45 minutes before sunrise, 5 degrees above the east-northeast horizon. Mars is located 13 degrees to the lower left of Aldebaran, the bright orange eye of Taurus. Aldebaran currently outshines Mars, but is similar in hue.
The phase of the moon changes from waning gibbous to last quarter on Saturday the 29th, and appears crescent through the remainder of the week. It appears about 36 minutes later each morning, its rising advancing from 10:47 p.m. on Wednesday the 26th to 2:22 a.m. on Wednesday the 3rd.
Now that the early part of the evening is free of moonlight, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of summer–the best time to see the crowd of stars, star clusters and nebulae, both bright and dark around the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. The central bulge of the Milky Way is the backdrop of the fishhook shaped Scorpius the Scorpion (with the bright orange star Antares) and the teapot-shaped Sagittarius the Archer; visible low in the southeast on clear nights, even from suburban locations. After allowing at least ten minutes for your eyes to adapt to darkness (avoid cell-phone screens), use binoculars to carefully examine this region of the sky. You will effortlessly come across open star clusters and beautiful double stars. A trip to desert or mountain resort areas–free from light pollution and with a clear view to the south–will also add to this scene the broad, silvery glow of the Milky Way against the black sky, crisscrossed with dark clouds of unformed stars, and bright glowing clouds where nebulae are condensing into new stars, as well as the hazy round glows of the ancient globular star clusters – all within the reach of ordinary binoculars.
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 on Saturday, July 13.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.