This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through January 17, 2018. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
Bright stars fill the winter sky as soon as it grows dark. The best way to become familiar with them is to learn the constellations, imaginary groupings, usually linked to ancient myths, that serve as memory aids when viewing the sky. The easiest constellation to see in the winter is Orion the Hunter, from Greek mythology. Orion can be found in the southeast sky early in the evening, and moves to the south by about 10 p.m. Its most noticeable feature is a line of three evenly spaced stars, forming the hunter’s belt, that are enclosed in a tall rectangle marking the hunter’s shoulders and knees. The bright orange star at the upper left of the rectangle is Betelgeuse, and the blue-white star marking the lower right of the rectangle is Rigel, one of Orion’s knees. Orion is the “key” to identifying the other stars and constellations surrounding it; tracing the line formed by the belt to the lower left leads you the brightest star of the sky, Sirius, part of the constellation Canis Major the Large Dog, and extending the line to the upper right and equal distance brings you to a group of stars forming a “V”, the face of the constellation Taurus the Bull containing the bright orange star Aldebaran, one of the Bull’s eyes.
The moon and the bright planets, with the exception of Venus, now hidden in the glare of the sun, are all visible in the morning sky before sunrise.
The waning moon and the bright planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all visible at about 6:00 a.m. Jupiter and Mars are the highest of these objects, in the southeast, and form an eye catching pair. Jupiter is the brightest planet now visible, and Mars is to Jupiter’s right and orange in hue. To the lower left of the Jupiter-Mars pair and mid-way between them and the horizon is the orange star Antares in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Continuing to the lower left, and close to the southeast horizon are another close pair of bright planets, Mercury and Saturn. Mercury appears to the right of Saturn until the 13th, when it passes below Saturn, and after that it moves to Saturn’s left. The crescent moon sweeps by these objects. On the 11th it makes a striking grouping with Mars and Jupiter. The moon is above Antares on the 12th and to the left of the star on the 13th, then moves to the upper right of Mercury and Saturn on the 14th and to the lower left of these planets on the following morning.
The moon is new on the evening of the 16th, and it will reappear in the evening sky starting on the 18th.
Free views of the Sun during the day and of 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, January 27th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.