This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through March 22nd, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
Spring begins in the northern hemisphere at 3:29 a.m. on the 20th. This event, the vernal equinox, is also the moment when the Earth is oriented so that the sun is directly over the equator and as a result the northern and southern hemispheres are both equally illuminated. The spring season in the northern hemisphere will end with the summer solstice on June 20.
Venus is becoming hard to find low in the west at sunset as the brilliant planet draws towards its conjunction with the sun on the 25th. The conjunction is when Venus passes nearly between the Earth and the Sun. Afterward, Venus will only be visible in the early morning sky. Venus will set during twilight at 8:17 p.m., or 46 minutes after sunset, on the 15th and at 7:31 p.m., or 25 minutes after sunset on the 22nd. Venus shows an extremely thin crescent phase through binoculars and telescopes. The planet currently is one of the objects featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
Binoculars will help you to spot the innermost planet, Mercury. On the 18th Mercury will be located 8 degrees, or about one binocular field of view, to the left of Venus. By 30 minutes after sunset, Mercury should be visible by the unaided eye. Although Venus will slip out of view by next week, Mercury will be visible in the west during evening twilight through the end of the month.
When darkness falls, the planet Mars is the brightest star like object that appears low in the sky and directly to the west. Binoculars should allow you to see the planet’s reddish tint. Mars is in the direction of the constellation Aries the Ram.
The second brightest planet, Jupiter, is the brightest object over the eastern horizon after it rises by 8:30 p.m. Jupiter appears in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. It is at its highest, and in the south, when it crosses the meridian at about 2:30 a.m.
The waning moon rises at 10:09 p.m. on the 15th and at 3:16 a.m. on the 22nd. It is gibbous before the 20th, when it becomes last quarter. On following mornings it is crescent before the new moon on the 27th.
The ringed planet Saturn, in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer, looks gold-hued and bright after it rises at 2:30 a.m. It is at its highest in the southern sky at the start of dawn. Saturn is the bright object next to the first-quarter moon on the 20th.
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, April 1st.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.