Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, October 2, 2013

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, October 2, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:

The brightest planet, Venus, can be seen for two hours after sunset in the southwest. Through a telescope, the planet displays a gibbous phase, about 60-percent illuminated.

The second brightest planet, Jupiter, makes its appearance above the east-northeast horizon at 12:30 a.m. this week. Jupiter is in the constellation Gemini the Twins, and is 60 degrees high in the southeast at the start of dawn. The waning crescent moon appears below Jupiter on Saturday the 28th.

The orange planet Mars, appearing as faint as it ever does at magnitude 1.6, is in Leo the Lion. It rises in the east at 3:00 a.m. and is 28 degrees above the eastern horizon at 5:24 a.m. at the start of dawn. Comet ISON passes only 6.7 million miles from Mars on Tuesday, October 1. At the same time, both Mars and the comet are 199 million miles from earth. NASA’s Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will try to study the comet during its passage by Mars. In our sky, comet ISON, now at about magnitude 10 (10,000 times fainter than Mars), can be found through a telescope, just under 2 degrees north of the planet.

The waning crescent moon appears after midnight this week. It will appear close to Mars on September 30th and October 1st.

Two important events are scheduled that could be milestones in commercial spaceflight development.

On Sunday morning, September 29, the robotic Cygnus supply module (made by Orbital Sciences Corporation) is slated for capture by the International Space Station. Live coverage of the capture on NASA TV (available on the Internet), is scheduled to start at 12:30 a.m., P.D.T., about 30 minutes before the capture of Cygnus.

The other event is the several-times delayed launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1, an entirely re-designed and more powerful version of the rocket that has been used to fly resupply missions to the International Space Station. This launch is the first SpaceX launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. In addition to placing a Canadian research and communication satellite into orbit, the launch will be a critical test of the upgraded launch system. An attempt may be made to restart the discarded first stage to bring its speed to zero when it reaches the Pacific Ocean. This is a test of technology that is designed to eventually make space rockets completely reusable and vastly less expensive than they are currently. Live coverage of the launch is offered through the Spaceflight Now website. The ascending rocket should be interesting to watch as it appears above the western horizon as it rises to orbit. Launch could occur during a two-hour period starting at 9:00 a.m., P.D.T. on Sunday, September 29, or again at the same time on the following morning, if the Sunday attempt is scrubbed. Have binoculars handy!

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, October 12.

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