This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, March 4, 2015. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
The moon gains in brightness this week, waxing from first quarter to gibbous. It is up for a longer and longer period each night. Between February 26 and March 4, moonset advances from 12:22 a.m. to 5:34 a.m., PST. The moon is one of the featured targets of Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes this week.
Venus, the brightest planet, shines in the west-southwest for more than two hours after sunset. As the sky darkens, orange planet Mars can be found below and slightly to the right of Venus. The planets are slowly drifting apart from each other in the sky, and their apparent separation grows from nearly two degrees to more than five degrees this week. Binoculars may allow you to see distant planet Uranus less than a degree above Venus on March 3rd, and the same distance below Venus on the 4th. Venus outshines Uranus by a factor of more than 8,000 times.
Jupiter, in Cancer the Crab, is bright and high in the eastern sky as darkness falls. It is highest as it transits in the south at about 10:30 p.m., and sets at 5:15 a.m. Steadily held binoculars can be used to see Jupiter’s four largest moons, and a telescope can reveal the atmospheric detail of the planet. Jupiter’s famous oval storm, the Great Red Spot, faces the earth every 9 hours and 56 minutes. It will face us at 6:23 p.m., PST on the 25th, and will be visible in the early evening again on the 27th. Mutual events of Jupiter’s moons–moons crossing in front of each other (mutual occultations) or shadowing one another (mutual eclipses)–are fascinating to watch in a telescope. They are occurring now, as they do only for a few months every six years. A list of the best mutal events of Jupiter’s moons visible from the west coast are listed on our special web page. Jupiter is also currently featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The ringed planet Saturn, in Scorpius the Scorpion, rises in the east-southeast shortly after midnight, and is due south during the dawn. Saturn outshines the brightest star of Scorpius, Antares. Fiery Antares gleams 8 degrees to the lower left of Saturn.
Early-risers with a clear east-southeast horizon may be able to find the innermost planet, Mercury. It is most visible against the dawn at 5:40 a.m. at which time it is 5 degrees above the horizon.
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.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.