Griffith Observatory Sky Report through October 4, 2017

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through October 4th, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.

The moon is first quarter on September 27th, and afterwards, before the Full Moon on October 5th, it is waxing gibbous. Throughout this period, moonset takes place about 47 minutes later than on the previous night, and between September 7th and October 4th, the time of moonset advances from 11:59 p.m. to 5:35 a.m.

The planet Jupiter, low in bright evening twilight, is harder and harder to see on successive evenings as it nears a conjunction with the sun late in October. The giant planet sets at 7:45 p.m. on September 27th, and at 7:21 p.m. on October 4th.

The planet Saturn, appearing bright, golden, and star-like in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, is best seen during evening twilight when it is highest in the west-southwest sky. A telescope is needed to see the beautiful ring system of Saturn. The planet sets at about 10:40 p.m. The moon and Saturn are featured this week through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.

The distant, telescopic planets Uranus and Neptune are both well positioned for late-night viewing. Neptune, in the constellation Aquarius the Water-Bearer is the first to cross the southern meridian, where it is best observed at its highest in the sky, at about 11:00 p.m. Uranus, in Pisces the Fishes, crosses the meridian at about 2:00 a.m. The tiny disks of both planets can be spotted at high magnification through nearly any telescope with go-to pointing capability, or they can be identified with the aid of detailed finder charts, available on the Sky and Telescope Magazine Website.

The brightest planet, Venus, is a striking object in the eastern sky after it rises at about 5:00 a.m. By 5:45 a.m., the fainter but distinctly orange planet Mars becomes visible below Venus. Mars and Venus appear to be drawing nearer to each other on successive mornings and will reach a close conjunction on October 5th.

On Wednesday, October 4th, on the 60th anniversary of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch at 6:06 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Look to the west to see the rocket arc up and to the south in the dawn sky, as seen from Los Angeles. Use binoculars to look for the re-ignition of the rocket’s first stage as it begins to maneuver for its planned landing on a barge in the ocean, while the rocket’s second stage carries the payload of 10 Iridium Next communication satellites to orbit. Live streaming coverage, and notification if the schedule changes, will be available on the SpaceX Webpage.

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 between 2:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 30th.

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