Griffith Observatory Sky Report through March 1st, 2017

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through March 1st, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.

The planet Venus is the brilliant object in the western sky for two hours beginning at sunset. The planet Mars is the orange object that appears to the upper left of Venus. The beautiful crescent phase of Venus is one of the sights provided through the public telescopes at Griffith Observatory.

The waning crescent moon is in the early morning sky through the 24th. It is new on February 26th. The new moon is also the occasion of an annular solar eclipse, visible on land only from parts of South America and Africa. The Slooh Observatory plans to provide a live Internet stream of the eclipse, beginning at 4:00 a.m., PST. No portion of this eclipse is visible from the United States. In less than six months, however, the total eclipse of August 21, 2017, will be visible across the United States. The moon moves to the evening sky starting on the 27th. The moon is close to Venus on the 28th and to Mars on March 1st.

The second brightest planet, Jupiter, is in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. It becomes visible above the eastern horizon shortly after 9:00 p.m. Jupiter crosses the meridian and is highest in the southern sky at about 3:00 a.m., and then it descends into the southwest sky at dawn. Virgo’s bright star Spica appears close to Jupiter all through the night. In reality, of course, the two objects are not near each other. Jupiter is currently 437 million miles away, the distance that light travels in 39 minutes, while Spica is 1,470 trillion miles away. Its light has taken 250 years to reach us, so we say that it is 250 light years away.

The planet Saturn, in the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius the Archer, appears as a bright golden point above the east-southeast horizon after it rises around 2:30 a.m. The planet and its magnificent rings are best placed for telescopic observation at 5:00 a.m., when dawn starts. Saturn is then in the southeast sky. Saturn, by the way, is more than twice as far away as Jupiter, at a distance of 960 million miles, or 86 light-minutes away.

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, March 4th.

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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at