This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through April 6th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The planet Jupiter, in the constellation Leo the Lion, is now the brightest object in the evening sky. Jupiter can be spotted easily by looking to the east during evening twilight. By 11:00 p.m., Jupiter is at it highest, 64 degrees above the southern horizon. Later, the earth’s rotation shifts Jupiter into the southwestern sky. The planet sets in the west at about 5:30 a.m. With the help of a telescope, the shadow of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, will be visible as a black spot as it slowly transits Jupiter’s disk between 8:47 p.m., PDT on March 29 and midnight on the 31st. Jupiter’s colorful oval storm, the Great Red Spot, will face west coast observers at 9:00 p.m. on March 31st, and on April 2nd and 5th. Jupiter is the planet now featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The innermost planet, Mercury, moves into the evening sky starting on April 2nd. On that date it will be five degrees high in the west when nautical twilight starts, at 7:40 p.m., and by the 6th, it will be 8 degrees high. For comparison, remember that your clenched fist, when held out to arm’s length, has an angular size of approximately 10 degrees. Mercury will be visible through the first three weeks of April.
The waning moon is last quarter on March 23rd and will be new on April 7. Between March 31st and April 6th, the time of moonrise advances from 1:41 a.m. to 6:08 a.m.
The planet Mars moves from the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion to Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer on April 2nd. Mars gleams brilliantly with a distinctive orange hue and is visible above the east-southeast horizon shortly after it rises at about 11:30 p.m. Mars is highest, in the south, at about 4:30 a.m., and moves to the south-south west during dawn.
The golden planet Saturn appears only 10 degrees to the left of Mars in the early morning. Both planets are rewarding to look at through a telescope. While the markings on the tiny disk of Mars may take some practice to see, Saturn’s stunning rings are breathtaking from the very first view. Mars will come closer to earth, rise earlier, and become easier to observe, by late May, while Saturn will move into the evening sky around the same time. The moon will appear above Mars on March 28 and is above Saturn on the following morning.
The International Space Station will be brilliant when it passes over southern California on Thursday night, the 31st. From Los Angeles, the ISS should become visible over the west-southwest horizon at 8:08 p.m., PDT. Appearing as bright as Jupiter, the Space Station will climb up to an angular elevation of 51 degrees in the northwest sky before descending to the northeast, where it will last be seen at 8:15 p.m.
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, April 16th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.