This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through March 2nd, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The second brightest planet, Jupiter, is the brightest object visible in the early evening. It can be seen above the eastern horizon before darkness falls. The giant planet, in the constellation Leo the Lion, is at its highest elevation, 62 degrees in the south, at about 12:45 a.m. It then nears the western horizon close to sunrise. Because the planet can be watched through most of the night, it is possible to see all of Jupiter’s cloud features visible through a telescope in a single night, as Jupiter makes a full rotation in slightly less than 10 hours. Jupiter is one of the objects currently being shown through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The brightest night-time star, Sirius, in the Constellation Canis Major the Big Dog, glitters from 40 degrees above the southern horizon at about 8:00 p.m. Sirius is also the nearest night-time star visible to the naked eye from the latitude of Los Angeles. It is 8.6 light years away, so we are seeing Sirius now as it was in mid-July, 2007. It simply takes light 8.6 years to cross the 51 trillion miles to get here.
The moon, now past full, rises after sunset. Moonrise is at 7:47 p.m. on the 24th, and is at 1:06 a.m. on March 2nd. The moon’s phase wanes from gibbous to last quarter on March 1st. The phase is crescent starting on March 2nd.
The bright planets Mars, Saturn, and Venus are all highest in the sky during the dawn. Mars, in the constellation Libra the Scales, has a strong orange hue and is just close enough to allow telescopic details to be visible to a patient observer. The moon is to the upper left of Mars on February 29th.
Golden Saturn is 19 degrees to the left of Mars in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. Even from a billion miles away, Saturn’s rings are spectacular through nearly every telescope. The moon appears between Saturn and Mars on March 1st and is to the upper left of Saturn on March 2nd.
The brightest planet, Venus, is currently a little difficult to see. Venus rises above the east-southeast horizon after dawn starts, at 5:14 a.m. At sunrise the angular elevation of Venus is only 13 degrees, so a clear horizon is key to seeing the planet.
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, March 12th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at email@example.com