This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
The waxing crescent moon changes to first quarter on Tuesday night, May 6th, and on following nights is waxing gibbous before becoming full on the 14th. Moonset occurs an average of 38 minutes later each successive night, changing from 9:17 p.m. on April 30th to 1:41 a.m. on May 7th.
The planet Jupiter, in Gemini the Twins, is high in the west as darkness falls on April 30th, but will be noticeably lower at the end of twilight on the 6th. The moon will appear near brilliant Jupiter on May 3rd and 4th. Jupiter sets in the west-northwest shortly after midnight.
Coppery-orange planet Mars is in Libra the scales and is noticeable in the southeast as the sky grows dark. This is the best week for early-evening viewing, with the planet’s transit occurring at about 11:00 p.m. Mars is rapidly drawing away from earth, and will appear much fainter and observing telescopic details will be much harder at the end of the month.
Golden planet Saturn is in Libra the Scales, and rises a little south of east shortly after 8:00 p.m. Saturn is highest in the south at 1:20 a.m. Telescopic observers will be able to see the planet’s rings brighten a little compared to the planet itself night by night as it nears opposition with the sun next week.
The brightest planet, Venus, rises just before dawn, at 4:15 a.m.. At sunrise it can still be glimpsed, 22 degrees above the eastern horizon.
The annual eta Aquarid meteor shower reaches its peak rate of 20 meteors per hour at the start of dawn (4:30 a.m.) on Tuesday, May 6. The point from which the meteors stream, the shower’s radiant, is then low in the southeast, near the “Water Jar” of Aquarius the Water Bearer. The eta Aquarid meteors are fragments of dust shed from the nucleus of comet Halley centuries ago. The Orionid meteors of October are also made by comet Halley. Comet Halley itself is still 47 years away from its next visit to our part of the solar system.
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 from Tuesday through 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, May 3rd.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.