This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through May 24th, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The largest planet, Jupiter, and the second largest, Saturn, are well positioned to fill a long night of planetary observations.
Jupiter, in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, is high and brilliant in the south-southwest after sunset. Jupiter is highest in the south when it crosses the meridian at about 10:00 p.m. Jupiter’s largest moons, first discovered by Galileo in 1609, are visible as tiny star-like spots next to the brilliant planet when they are observed though binoculars. Observations made over several nights will let you note their changing positions as they orbit Jupiter. A more powerful telescope can reveal the striped arrangement of Jupiter’s clouds and its stormy atmospheric disturbances. The famous oval storm, the Great Red Spot, will be visible at 9:00 p.m. through telescopes located on the West Coast on the 17th and 22nd. At 9:00 p.m. on the 18th, the tiny shadows of two of the moons, Io and Europa, will be visible on the disk of Jupiter at the same time.
Saturn appears similar to a bright golden star. It moves from the constellation Sagittarius the Archer to Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer on the 18th. The planet rises above the east-southeast horizon before 10:00 p.m., and reaches its highest point in the south at about 2:30 a.m. Saturn’s rings are spectacular through nearly any telescope.
The brightest planet, Venus, blazes above the eastern horizon at dawn. A telescope is needed to see the phase of the planet, that is now crescent.
The waning moon retreats into the early morning hours. It rises at 12:35 a.m. on the 17th, and at 5:08 a.m. on the 24th. During the same period, the moon’s phase changes from gibbous to crescent, and is last quarter on the 18th. It is beautifully positioned below Venus on the morning of the 22nd. At about 5:20 a.m. on the same morning, look to the lower left of the Venus-Moon pair to see the planet Mercury about eight degrees above the horizon, about half as high as the apparent elevation of the moon.
The International Space Station will make a spectacular evening appearance above Los Angeles on the night of Tuesday the 23rd. The ISS will at times appear brighter than Jupiter as it crosses the sky from the southwest to the northeast between 9:22 and 9:29 p.m. The space station will be directly overhead, as seen from Griffith Observatory, at 9:26 p.m.
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 3rd.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.