This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through June 28, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The planet Jupiter, in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, is brilliant and easy to find by just looking to the south as the evening twilight deepens. Seven-power binoculars are sufficient to see the four largest of Jupiter’s moons appearing as tiny star-like points that are arranged differently from one night to the next as they orbit around the giant planet. Intricate cloud patterns in Jupiter’s atmosphere can be observed through larger telescopes. Jupiter’s famous oval storm, the Great Red Spot, will face observers in Los Angeles at 9:00 p.m. on the 22nd, 24th, and 27th.
The planet Saturn, in Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, appears fainter than Jupiter, but it is still conspicuous as the brightest object in the southeast sky beginning at about 9:00 p.m. Saturn is best placed for viewing when it crosses the meridian in the south at about midnight and sets in the west during the dawn. Saturn, with its spectacular rings, is thrilling to see through nearly any telescope. At present, they are tipped nearly 27 degrees in our direction, their maximum amount. The giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are currently featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
Early risers can see the brightest planet, Venus, gleaming in the eastern sky at dawn. Venus is so bright that it has often been mistaken for and oddly stationary airplane light. Just remember that Venus is the brightest astronomical object in the sky after the Sun and moon.
The moon is new on the 23rd. It will be waxing crescent when it appears above the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset starting on the 25th.
The moon will block from view, or occult, the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull shortly after sunrise on Thursday morning, the 22nd. You should be able to spot Aldebaran with ease by focusing a telescope on the moon before 6:02 a.m., the time of the occultation, at which time Aldebaran winks out of view behind the moon. Aldebaran’s instant re-appearance at 6:57 a.m. may be harder to observe because of the increased elevation of the sun and its increased sky illumination.
Friday’s new moon makes this weekend ideal for a trip to a dark-sky wilderness location, far from urban light pollution, to see the Milky Way high overhead. At about 1 a.m., the brightest and widest part of the glowing stream of stars containing the center of our galaxy, in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer, is massed over the southern horizon. Bring binoculars to hunt deep-sky treasures! The Desert Sun Magazine has an on-line guide to some of the best of the dark star-gazing spots in southern California.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, launching communication satellites, might be visible from the Los Angeles area. The launch of the Irridium Next 11-20 satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, west and slightly north of Los Angeles, is currently scheduled to occur on Sunday the 25th at 1:25 p.m. PDT. The launch will also be streamed live on the SpaceX Webpage. That Webpage should also provide updates in case the event is re-scheduled.
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 29th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.