This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, February 4, 2015. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
The moon is visible through most of the night this week, its phase waxing from gibbous to full on February 3rd. The traditional American name for the full moon this month is the Snow Moon. Views of the moon through telescopes will be most dramatic on Wednesday and Thursday nights. On Wednesday, the long sunrise shadows along the terminator–the line that divides the day and night sides of the moon–emphasize the ruggedness of the moon’s heavily cratered southern highlands. On Thursday, the terraces and central mountains of the 65-mile-wide crater Copernicus will stand out in bold relief.
The brightest planet, Venus is eye catching in the west-southwest after sunset. A challenging observation is possible through a telescope on February 1st, when the distant planet Neptune may be found less than one degree to the lower right (northwest) of Venus. The ghostly blue disk of Neptune appears only a fifth as wide as the blazing white disk of Venus.
Orange planet Mars, in Aquarius the Water Carrier, looks like a bright star, 10 degrees to the upper left of Venus. These two planets will appear a little closer together night after night.
Jupiter is visible nearly all night this week, rising in the east-northeast shortly after sunset, standing high in the south at midnight, and sinking to the west-northwest horizon at sunrise. The brilliant yellow planet moves from Leo the Lion to Cancer the Crab on the 4th. On the night of February 1, observers with at least a small telescope can watch as Jupiter’s moon Io passes in front of (occults) another of Jupiter’s four bright moons, Europa, between 7:29 and 7:33 p.m., PST. Later that night, between 11:53 and 11:59 p.m., Ganymede will occult Europa. In the very early morning hours of the 4th, Europa will occult Io between 12:51 and 12:58 a.m. The Snow Moon poses next to Jupiter on the 3rd.
The ringed planet Saturn, in Scorpius the Scorpion is best seen in the southern sky at the start of dawn. It is also 10 degrees above Antares, the brilliant orange star of Scorpius. A telescope will show the northern side of Saturn’s magnificent ring 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, February 28.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.