This is the special two-week, Thanksgiving vacation edition of the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the period ending Wednesday, December 4, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The brightest planet Venus continues to dazzle for more than two hours after sunset in the southwest. Through a telescope, the brilliant white planet displays a crescent phase.
The second brightest planet, Jupiter, makes its appearance above the east-northeast horizon earlier each successive night, at between 8:15 and 7:15 p.m. between November 20 and December 4. Appearing in Gemini the Twins, Jupiter is nearly overhead shortly after midnight and is low in the west at dawn. Binoculars can reveal Jupiter’s four largest moons, and a telescope will show the planet’s dark atmospheric belts and bright zones.
Orange planet Mars moves from Leo the Lion to Virgo the Maiden on November 24. It appears between Leo’s brightest star Regulus and Virgo’s brightest star Spica. At dawn, the planet stands 50 degrees high in the southeast.
At 5:30 a.m., the bright, innermost planet Mercury appears in the same direction as the ringed planet Saturn, which Mercury outshines. The planets appear close together above the east-southeast horizon between November 24 and 26. Saturn appears to approach Mercury from below until the 24th, then appears less than a degree to the left of Mercury on the 25th. After than, Saturn appears increasingly farther to the upper right of Mercury through December 4.
Spica, Mercury, and Saturn can guide you to find comet ISON between November 21 and 24. See our finder chart for that period on our comet ISON web page. The comet has been seen by the unaided eye from dark, high altitude locations, and should not be hard to find with the aid of the chart, if the sky is clear. Between November 21st and December 3rd, comet ISON will probably be too close to the sun to observe from Earth, but space based telescopes on a number of solar observatories should continue to track the progress of comet ISON. From the 21st-28th, comet ISON will travel through the field of a number of NASA solar telescopes and planetary probes in different parts of the solar system. Instructions on how to monitor these images will appear on our comet ISON webpage. On Thanksgiving Day, November 28, comet ISON is at perihelion, its closest point to the sun, only 728,000 miles from the sun’s surface, and it is possible that the comet will be destroyed by intense heating even before reaching this point. By December 2, we should have a good indication whether or not comet ISON become will be spectacular at dawn over the following weeks.
The waning moon changes from gibbous to last quarter on November 25, and is new on December 2. It will appear 3 degrees to the upper right of Mercury on December 1, and reappears in the west-southwest after sunset on December 4.
The moon covers Spica during the day on Friday, November 29. A telescope should allow Spica to be seen against the blue sky until the southern part of the moon’s bright crescent occults (blocks) the star suddenly, at 8:49 a.m., as seen from Los Angeles, or within a few minutes of that time anywhere in southern California. Spica will re-appear from behind the southeast (lower right) side of the moon’s unlit limb at 10:01 a.m., PST.
Free views of the sun during the day and of the moon, planets, and other celestial objects at night, are usually available to the public in clear weather through Griffith Observatory’s telescopes Tuesday-Sunday before 9:30 p.m. Griffith Observatory will be closed on Thursday, November 28. 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, December 7.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.