This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through November 29, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The planets Mercury and Saturn are visible close to the southwestern horizon against a bright sky starting thirty minutes after sunset. Mercury appears star-like and it is located five degrees above the horizon at that time, or about half as high above the horizon as the angle covered by your clenched fist when it is held out to arm’s length. Saturn is fainter and is higher than Mercury, and it draws closer and closer to Mercury on successive nights. By the 29th, Saturn is only a little higher than Mercury and more to Mercury’s right. Binoculars will help you to find these planets.
The moon’s phase waxes from crescent to first quarter on the 26th, and then it is gibbous on the following nights. Moonset changes from 10:22 p.m. on the 22nd to 2:02 a.m. on the 29th. The moon is ideally placed for early-evening exploration through binoculars or a telescope this week, and its rugged landscape is currently featured through the public telescopes at Griffith Observatory.
Although they are far more challenging to see than the moon, the outer planets– Uranus and Neptune–are also well placed for telescopic observation in the early evening hours. Neptune, in the constellation Aquarius the Water-Bearer, is highest in the sky at 6:15 p.m., and it looks blue and very tiny even at high magnification through a large telescope. Uranus, in Pisces the Fishes is highest at about 9:00 p.m. Its disk appears only slightly larger than that of Neptune, and it has a pale-green hue. If your telescope does not automatically point at the planets, use the finder charts provided on the Sky and Telescope Magazine website.
The second brightest planet, Jupiter, in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, can be seen above the eastern horizon by 5:00 a.m. Mars, also in Virgo but much fainter than Jupiter, is distinguished by an orange hue that is easy to see through binoculars. Mars appears to the upper right of Jupiter by an amount that decreases from 19 to 17 degrees between the 22nd and 29th. On the 19th, Mars will appear just three degrees north of Virgo’s brightest star, Spica.
Before sunrise, the brightest planet, Venus, is becoming harder to see as it rises later into a brighter sky each succeeding morning. It rises at 5:37 a.m. on the 22nd, and at 5:52 a.m. on the 29th.
The International Space Station will pass high over Los Angeles on Monday the 27th. From the City, The ISS will cross the sky from the southwest to the northeast between 5:46 and 5:51 a.m., and it will appear highest at 5:49 a.m., when it will be 67 degrees above the southwest horizon. The satellite should outshine anything then visible in the sky but the moon.
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, December 16th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.