This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The planet Jupiter, in Gemini the Twins, is now the brightest object of the early evening and is nearly overhead by 8:00 p.m. The giant planet can be seen until it sets in the west-northwest at about 3:15 a.m. Binoculars are sufficient to show Jupiter’s four largest moons, and a telescope will allow you to see the features of Jupiter’s clouds. Jupiter’s largest oval storm, the Great Red Spot, will be visible at 9:00 p.m. from the Pacific Time zone on February 27, March 2, and March 4. The planet is now featured through the public telescopes of Griffith Observatory.
Orange planet Mars, in Virgo the Maiden, rises in the east-southeast at 9:20 p.m. Mars appears slightly brighter night after night as it draws towards its closest approach to earth in mid-April. The planet is well placed for telescopic observation between 11:00 p.m. and dawn, and is best positioned when it transits in the south at 3:00 a.m. This week, the north polar cap, shrinking in summer sunlight, and the cloud-shrouded volcano named Elysium face southern California at prime viewing time.
Golden planet Saturn, in Libra the Scales, follows Mars through the sky by about two hours, rising in the east-southeast at 11:20 p.m., and crossing the meridian in the south at 4:45 am. The northern face of Saturn’s spectacular ring system, visible through nearly any telescope, is titled 22 degrees towards us.
The brightest planet, Venus, rises in the east-southeast at 3:50 a.m. and is still visible, 26 degrees high in the southeast, at sunrise. The planet shows a crescent phase through a telescope.
The innermost planet, Mercury, is best seen at the start of civil twilight (6:00 a.m.) on Friday the 28th. Binoculars can help you find Mercury 8 degrees (about one binocular field of view) above the east-southeast horizon.
The waning crescent moon is near Venus on the 26th, and Mercury on the 27. The moon is new on March 1, and will emerge into the evening sky, as a waxing crescent, on Sunday night.
The brightest satellite, the International Space Station, will appear high over Los Angeles on Wednesday night, February 26. The space station will outshine Jupiter as it moves from the northwest horizon at 6:11 p.m. to overhead at 6:15 p.m., then to the southeast horizon at 6:18 p.m. A telescope can show the arrangement of giant solar panels and central crew modules as the ISS hurtles by at five miles per second. For viewing information of the ISS and other satellites from locations other than Los Angeles, register your location on the Heavens-Above website.
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 before 9:30 p.m. Please note that Griffith Observatory will be closed to the public on Monday, March 3 and Tuesday, March 4. 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, March 8. That occasion will also be used to honor the memory of the legendary telescope builder and astronomy popularizer John Dobson with a special presentation in our Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater at 4:00 p.m.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.