This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report covering the two-week period through November 30th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The brightest planet, Venus, is the most conspicuous object in the southwest sky after sunset. Venus is blanketed by opaque white clouds, so the most interesting thing that the planet has to offer through a telescope is its phase, which is currently gibbous.
The ringed planet Saturn may be found to the lower right of Venus until the 23rd, when it will be overwhelmed by the glow of twilight. Saturn passes solar conjunction on December 10th, and the planet is hidden from view until it re-appears before sunrise at the end of December.
The planet Mars, in the constellation Capricornus the Water Goat, is about 38 degrees above the south-southwest horizon during evening twilight. To the eye, Mars appears as a bright orange star. Because it is on the far side of the Sun, it is now too far away for us to see easily the planet’s markings through a telescope. Mars does show a gibbous phase, although it is less pronounced than that of Venus. Mars sets about two hours after Venus, at around 9:45 p.m.
The two outermost planets can be observed through telescopes in the early evening. Uranus, in Pisces the Fishes and Neptune, in Capricornus the Water Goat, are well positioned for viewing as soon as darkness falls. You will need finder charts, such as those available on the Sky and Telescope magazine website, in order to locate Uranus and Neptune.
Jupiter, the largest planet, is brilliant in the eastern sky after it rises at about 3:00 a.m. Between the 16th and 30th, Jupiter’s elevation increases from 30 to 40 degrees above the horizon when it is observed 30 minutes before sunrise.
The moon is a waning gibbous on the 16th and it reaches last quarter on the 21st. After that, it will be visible as a waning crescent until the 27th. New Moon is on the 29th. The Moon appears close to Leo the Lion’s brightest star, Regulus, on Monday morning, the 21st, and it is near Jupiter on the 24th and 25th.
The brightness of the International Space Station will rival that of Venus during two passes that it makes directly over Los Angeles through the end of November. The first pass happens on Monday morning, November 21st. The ISS will emerge from Earth’s shadow when it is already 43 degrees above the northwest horizon at 5:10 a.m. A minute later, the space station is overhead, and over the following three minutes it descends to the southeast horizon. On Tuesday, November 29th, the ISS makes an evening appearance that starts in the southwest sky, close to Venus, at 6:02 p.m. The ISS passes overhead at 6:06 p.m., and it is visible for nearly another minute before it slips into Earth’s shadow while still 46 degrees above the northeast horizon.
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, December 10.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.