This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through April 12th, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The moon is full on the night of the 10th and its brightness dominates the nighttime hours through the 12th. On the 11th, the moon starts to rise after sunset, at 8:00 p.m., and on the 12th at 8:55 p.m.
The brilliant planet Jupiter appears in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. It is at opposition on the 7th, meaning that it is directly opposite the sun in the sky. As a consequence of being at opposition, Jupiter is visible all night long, rising at sunset, appearing at its highest in the south at 1:00 a.m., and setting at sunrise. Jupiter’s opposition is also when Earth is closest to Jupiter, so this is the best time to observe the planet through a telescope. In addition to the planet’s four largest moons that are bright enough to be seen through binoculars, many of Jupiter’s cloudy features are interesting to see through more powerful telescopes. Jupiter’s famous oval storm, the Great Red Spot, will face observers in Los Angeles at 9:00 p.m. on the 6th, 9th, and 11th. Because the planet rotates completely in less than 10 hours, it is possible to see all of Jupiter’s cloud features in a single night. The full moon, also at opposition with respect to the sun, will appear close to Jupiter on the 10th.
The planet Saturn is in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer, and it looks similar to a bright golden star as it crosses the southern meridian at dawn. The northern face of Saturn’s beautiful ring system is tilted nearly to its maximum extent to our line of sight.
The mornings of the 7th and 8th are the last mornings for the next two weeks when it is possible to observe three comets through binoculars from dark skies without the interference of moonlight before dawn begins at 5:04 a.m. The comets are 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, in Draco the Dragon, C/2015 ER61 PanSTARRS, in Aquarius the Water Bearer, and C/2017 E4 Lovejoy, in Andromeda the Chained Lady. All are currently glowing at about magnitude 7. See Sky and Telescope’s finder charts for comets PanSTARRS, 41/P, and Lovejoy.
As dawn lights the morning sky, the brightest planet, Venus, blazes over the east-northeast horizon. Use a telescope to see the slender crescent phase now displayed by Venus.
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, May 6th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at email@example.com.