This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through January 6, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
If you happen to be outside to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, you might want to take a moment to look due south to see the nighttime sky’s brightest star Sirius, of the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog. Sirius is highest in the sky and due south, as seen from the longitude of Los Angeles, at 11:57 p.m. on December 31. The star reaches that point in the sky, the meridian, four minutes earlier each night.
Earth is closest to the sun and is at the point of its elliptical orbit, its perihelion, on January 2 at 2:49 p.m., PST. The center of Earth is then 91,403,815 miles from the center of the Sun, 3,109,085 miles closer than we will be at aphelion, the greatest orbital distance, on July 4.
The brilliant planet Jupiter, in the constellation Leo the Lion, rises above the eastern horizon before 10:40 p.m. and is at its highest, 60 degrees high in the south, at about 4:45 a.m.
Orange planet Mars, in Virgo the Maiden, can be seen low in the south-southeast by 2:00 a.m. It is best observed at 5:30 a.m., at the start of dawn, when it is 41 degrees high in the south-southeast.
The brightest planet, Venus, peeks above the east-southeast horizon at 4:12 a.m., and is 13 degrees high when dawn starts. Morning by morning, Venus moves closer the golden planet Saturn, in the constellation Ophiuchus the Snake Bearer. The separation between the planets decreases from 11 degrees to three degrees between December 30 and January 6. Saturn’s beautiful ring system is a striking sight through nearly any telescope.
The waning moon will be last quarter on the 1st and then is crescent as it approaches new moon on the 9th. The moon is two degrees from Mars on January 3 and is above both Venus and Saturn on the 6th. Moonrise is at 10:19 p.m. on December 30th and 4:14 a.m. on January 6.
The Quadrantid meteor shower, the first major meteor shower of the year, will reach its peak on the late night and early morning of January 3-4. The radiant of the shower is in the northeast portion of Boötes the Herdsman, between the constellation Hercules and the handle of the Big Dipper–the site of the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural Quadrant. From a dark observing site, Quadrantid meteors stream from the northern sky just before 11:00 p.m. Their number should grow to about 45 per hour or more by 2:00 a.m., PST. The waning crescent moon, 29-percent illuminated, will rise at 1:53 a.m. but should not provide serious interference with observing the shower.
The International Space Station should pass directly over Los Angeles at early dawn on Monday, January 4. The ISS, rivaling Venus in brightness, will cross the sky from the southwest to the northeast between 5:43 and 5:49 a.m., and will be nearly overhead at 5:46 a.m., PST. Because the ISS orbit can change, please check the Heavens-Above Website, and enter your observing location for this and other satellite spotting opportunities.
Free views of the sun during the day and of the moon, planets, and other celestial objects at night are usually available to the public in clear weather through Griffith Observatory’s telescopes from Tuesday through Sunday before 9:30 p.m. This week, however, Griffith Observatory will close at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, the 31st, New Year’s Eve. We will be open on New Year’s Day. 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, January 16.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Year!