This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through June 1st, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
As the sky darkens after sunset, the brilliant planet Jupiter is one of the first objects to become visible. Jupiter can first be spotted high in the sky to the west-southwest and is within the imaginary boundaries of the constellation Leo the Lion. The planet sets at about 1:45 a.m.
While Jupiter is at is highest in the west-southwest, shift the direction of your gaze to just above the east-southeast horizon to see the orange planet Mars, in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, as it starts its march across the southern sky. Mars reaches its closest point to earth on the 30th, when it is 46.8 million miles away, the closest that it has been to us since 2007. Telescopes with a diameter of three inches or more should be able to reveal the planet’s dark markings, bright clouds and polar caps. Mars is highest in the sky at about midnight, and can be observed in detail through a telescope between about 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., Daylight Time. Slooh Observatory, on the Canary Islands, will stream live images of Mars for one hour starting at 6:00 p.m., PDT on Monday, May 30th. After this close approach of Mars, the next will happen on July 31, 2018.
Golden-hued planet Saturn, in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer, follows the same path as Mars though the sky, but trails Mars by a little over an hour. Saturn will reach opposition, the point directly opposite from the sun in our sky, on June 2nd. As that date approaches, a telescope will show the dramatic brightening of the planet’s spectacular ring system. This phenomenon is called the Seeliger effect.
At 1:00 a.m., when Mars and Saturn are high in the southern sky, they appear about 15 degrees apart, and form the top of a large, inverted triangle of bright objects. The object below the two planets is Antares, the brightest star of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Ares is the ancient Greek equivalent of the Roman Mars, the god of war, and the name Antares means the rival or equal of Mars. Can you see the similarity of the color of Mars and Antares?
The planet Mercury returns to visibility in the early morning for the first time since its May 9th transit across the sun. On Friday the 27th, Mercury is located 5 degrees above the east-southeast horizon, at 5:16 a.m., which is the beginning of civil twilight. On following mornings, Mercury will appear slightly higher at the same stage of dawn.
The moon’s visibility advances from the late night to the early morning hours. On May 25, the waning gibbous moon rises at 11:12 p.m. On June 1st, the waning crescent moon doesn’t appear until 3:16 a.m. The moon is last quarter on the 29th.
The International Space Station will make four spectacular passes over Los Angeles during the remainder of May. On Thursday, May 26th, the ISS will cross the sky from southwest to northeast between 9:34 and 9:41 p.m., PDT. Easily outshining the planet Jupiter, the space station will appear within a few degrees of the overhead point–the zenith–at 9:37 p.m. The ISS will next be seen before dawn on Saturday, May 28th. It will travel from the northwest to the southeast horizon between 4:48 a.m. and 4:55 a.m., PDT, and will be at its highest when it is near the zenith at 4:55 a.m. On Sunday, May 29th, the ISS will make both morning and evening appearances. The first starts before dawn, at 3:56 a.m. when the ISS appears above the northwest horizon. The ISS is at its highest, 50 degrees above the northeast horizon, at 3:59 a.m. It then sets in the east-southeast about three minutes later. On Sunday night, the ISS will first be visible above the west-southwest horizon at 8:32 p.m. It climbs to its peak elevation of 61 degrees in the northwest at 8:35 p.m., and then descends to the northeast horizon over the following three minutes.
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 free 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, June 11th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org