This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, November 6, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
Don’t forget to “fall back” this weekend. On Sunday morning, November 3, 1:59 a.m., PDT is followed by 1:00 a.m., PST. Standard time will continue until March 9 next year.
Venus, the brightest planet, low in the southwest sky, can be seen for two hours after sunset. Venus is at greatest eastern elongation on the first, meaning that it will be as far from the sun as it can appear in the evening sky this year. It will then be 47 degrees east of the sun. Through a telescope, the planet changes phase from half-illuminated to decidedly crescent this week.
The second brightest planet, Jupiter, is eye catching above the east-northeast horizon by 9:30 p.m. Standard Time. Jupiter appears in the center of Gemini, the Twins, and is only 12 degrees south of the zenith, the point directly overhead, when it crosses the meridian at 4:30 a.m. Standard Time.
Also at 4:30 a.m. Standard Time this week, the orange planet Mars shines in the lower portion of Leo the Lion, roughly midway between Jupiter and the east point on the horizon. Mars is also about 12 degrees to the lower left of Regulus, the brightest star of Leo that slightly outshines Mars. The planet is still very distant, but will show its white north polar cap to telescope-equipped observers. Mars will put on its best show in April next year when it comes three times closer to us than it is now.
Comet ISON is very diffuse, glowing at between magnitude 8 to 10 depending on the observer, and is healthy but developing slowly–or is on the verge of disintegrating as soon as this week–depending on which comet expert is consulted. A growing number of astronomers are coming to the conclusion that comet ISON is unlikely to ever become visible to the unaided eye unless it releases a large amount of material after its nucleus passes close to the sun on Thanksgiving Day. The comet continues to show a lengthening yellow tail and a green coma in recent photographs. Comet ISON moves from Leo the Lion to Virgo the Maiden on the 5th. The comet is about 30 degrees high in the east-southeast at dawn (5:50 a.m., PDT or 4:50 a.m., PST) and can be seen in a 4-inch or larger telescope from dark skies. More information is contained on our special Comet ISON webpage.
A rare hybrid (annular-total) solar eclipse occurs in the early morning hours (Pacific Time) of November 3, but it cannot be seen from Los Angeles. The central path of the eclipse produces a fleeting annular eclipse of 4 seconds duration at sunrise, about 620 miles east of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. Farther east and 15 seconds later, the eclipse transforms from annular to total. As a total eclipse, the central path is a thin ribbon passing through several countries in Equatorial Africa and ends at sunset in Somalia as a total eclipse of one-second duration, just short of the Arabian Sea. Universe Today has a Web page about the eclipse and how to watch it live, online.
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, November 9.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.