This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through September 6, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The bright planet Jupiter, in Virgo the Maiden, is visible low in the west-southwest sky after sunset. The planet sets at 9:20 p.m. on August 30 and at 8:56 p.m. on September 6th.
The golden planet Saturn, in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, is visible at its highest apparent elevation in the south as darkness falls. Saturn sets in the west-southwest shortly after midnight. The early evening is now the best time to see Saturn’s spectacular rings through a telescope, and this view is currently featured through the public telescopes at Griffith Observatory.
The moon lights the night sky for an increasingly longer time night after night. Its phase is waxing gibbous until the 6th when it becomes full. Between August 30th and September 6th, moonset advances from 12:36 a.m. to 6:48 a.m.
The most distant of the sun’s known planets, Neptune, reaches opposition on the night of the 4th. The word opposition means that the planet is then opposite to the sun in the sky and Neptune is above the horizon from sunset to sunrise, and is highest in the sky at about 1:00 a.m., PDT. Even a small telescope used with high magnification can be used to find Neptune, now in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. If you don’t have a “go-to” telescope that automatically points at objects, use the finder charts linked to Sky and Telescope Magazine’s excellent online article on observing the outermost planets. Neptune is currently 2.7 billion miles away, the distance that light covers in four hours.
The brightest planet, Venus, is visible above the eastern horizon at dawn. By sunrise, it is still visible and about 30 degrees high.
The International Space Station will rival the brightness of Venus as it appears in the dawn sky over Los Angeles on August 31. The ISS will cross the sky from the southwest horizon to the northeast horizon between 5:44 and 5:51 a.m. It will appear highest, 77 degrees above the southeast horizon, at 5:47 a.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, September 30th.
Follow the Sky Report on Twitter for updates of astronomy and space-related events.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.