This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through July 6th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
Three bright planets, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, are ideally placed for observation starting shortly after sunset. These planets are currently featured through Griffith Observatory’s free public telescopes.
The planet Jupiter, in the constellation Leo the Lion, starts the evening in the western sky where it can be seen until it sets at about 11:30 p.m. Binoculars are sufficient to spot Jupiter’s four largest moons, also known as the Galilean satellites. A more powerful telescope is required to see the details of Jupiter’s banded clouds. The planet’s colorful oval storm, the Great Red Spot, faces observers in Los Angeles at 9:00 p.m., PDT on June 30th, July 2nd, and 5th.
The orange planet Mars appears slightly fainter than Jupiter. It gleams from the constellation Libra the Scales in the south as darkness falls. Even though Mars is receding from earth following its closest approach at the end of May, Mars still is close enough to show its dusky markings as well as misty clouds and bright polar caps through most telescopes. Mars sets in the west-southwest at about 2:30 a.m.
The golden planet Saturn is located in the south-southeast as darkness falls, to the left of Mars in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. The northern face of Saturn’s ring system is spectacular through telescopes, and several of the planet’s many moons are visible surrounding Saturn, outside of the rings. The brightest moon of Saturn, Titan, is visible through nearly any telescope. Saturn sets about an hour after Mars.
The moon changes from waning to waxing crescent between June 29th and July 6th, and is new on July 4th. It is visible in the eastern sky at dawn through July 2nd, and will appear after sunset in the evening sky starting on the 5th.
Comet PanSTARRSS, C/2013 X1 is visible through binoculars. It is highest at about midnight as it passes through the southern constellations Ara the Altar and Norma the Architect’s Level. With the help of the finder chart on our special web page, these unfamiliar constellations and the comet should not be too hard to find, located below the bright stars of Scorpius the Scorpion. The comet is less than ten degrees above the southern horizon, and its observation requires a dark sky location, other than urban Los Angeles, where the Milky Way appears bright and unobscured by light pollution. The moon begins to interfere with observations on July 7th.
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, July 9th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.