This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through May 6, 2015. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The waxing moon is gibbous until it becomes full on the night of the 3rd. May’s full moon is traditionally known as the Flower Moon. Afterward, the moon is waning gibbous until it reaches last quarter on the 11th.
This year’s annual eta Aquariid meteor shower will be hampered by bright moonlight when the meteors reach their peak on the morning of Wednesday, May 6. Under more favorable conditions, the shower can produce as many as 20 meteors in the hour before dawn. These meteors are fragments that were shed by comet Halley in past centuries.
Three planets can be seen shortly after sunset. The brightest planet, Venus, is about 35 degrees above the western horizon at sunset. At the same time, the second brightest planet, Jupiter, appears in the south about twice as high as Venus, in the constellation Cancer the Crab. From one night to the next, Venus and Jupiter appear one degree closer together. Between April 29 and May 6, the apparent gap between these planets shrinks from 52 to 45 degrees. At 8:00 p.m., through May 6, look about 10 degrees above the western horizon (about a third of the way between the horizon and Venus) to see the innermost planet, Mercury, as it shines as brightly as the brightest nighttime star, Sirius. Mercury is the first to set, at 9:18 p.m. Venus follows, and sets at 11:04 p.m. Finally, Jupiter sets in the west at 2:10 a.m. On the 30th, binoculars will help you see Mercury next to the Pleiades star cluster of the constellation Taurus the Bull.
Saturn makes its appearance in the southeast at about 10:30 p.m. and is best placed for viewing, in the south, at 2:15 a.m. It is in the northern portion of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Saturn’s beautiful system of rings, visible only through telescopes, is tilted 25 degrees from edge-on in our direction. The waxing gibbous moon passes Saturn on the night of the 4th.
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 the 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 30.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.