This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through February 7, 2018. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
Now past full, the waning moon makes a hasty retreat from the evening sky. It rises at 5:54 p.m. on January 31st and at 12:11 a.m. on February 7th, while its phase changes from gibbous to last quarter during this period.
The three planets currently visible to the unaided eye are arrayed in a line that stretches from low in the southeast to high in the south at dawn. Jupiter, the highest and brightest of these, now occupies the constellation Libra the Scales, and it is high in the southern sky before sunrise. The last quarter moon will draw close to Jupiter on the 7th. Mars, displaying an orange hue, is to the lower left of Jupiter, in the neighboring constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. In line with Jupiter and Mars, but close to the southeast horizon, is the golden planet Saturn, in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer.
Through a telescope, Jupiter displays dark stripes–called belts–that appear in parallel across the planet’s cloudy face. It also features an earth-sized orange storm called the Great Red Spot that is seen from time to time. The rapid rotation of Jupiter will bring the Red Spot into view on the mornings of February 1st, 4th, and 6th. In addition to Jupiter’s planetary details, the largest four of the planet’s numerous moons are easy to see. On the morning of the 2nd, a telescope may enable you to see the tiny dark shadow of the large moon Io as it crosses Jupiter’s face.
Mars now presents too small of a disk to see planetary detail through anything but large telescopes, but Saturn easily reveals its beautiful system of rings even through smaller telescopes.
For those who prefer to view the sky early in the evening, please be patient. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will be visible just after sunset starting late in the summer.
Free views of the Sun during the day and of the moon, and other interesting 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, February 24th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at email@example.com.