This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through November 22, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The annual Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak between midnight and dawn on the morning of Friday, the 17th. The shower is not expected to produce more than about ten meteors per hour this year, but there is a possibility that some of these may be very bright. The meteors appear to stream from the “sickle,” or head of the constellation Leo the Lion. They are visible in the eastern sky from midnight until dawn, about 5 a.m. The best view would be from a dark wilderness location in the desert or mountains. Joshua Tree National Park is an example of a good meteor-watching location. Because the myriad city lights produce a light pollution glow that hides meteors, there is little to see from Griffith Park, and Griffith Observatory is not open at that hour.
The moon is visible before sunrise as a narrow crescent until the 17th, when it rises after dawn starts, so it will not interfere with the maximum of the Leonid meteor shower. It is new on the 18th, and then it will become visible in the evening sky starting about half an hour after sunset on the 19th. Between the 19th and the 22nd, the time of moonset advances from 6:03 to 8:22 p.m.
On Monday, the 20th, the moon will help you to find two planets that now are otherwise hard to see in the evening twilight glow. Use binoculars to see the golden planet Saturn only two degrees, or four moon-diameters, to the lower left of the moon. The innermost planet Mercury is then just beginning to move into the evening sky, and it is then located eight degrees below the moon, about two thirds the distance between the moon and the horizon.
Before sunrise, at about 6:00 a.m., look to the east to find the brightest planet, Venus, above the east-southeastern horizon. Above it is the second brightest planet, Jupiter, and to the upper left of Jupiter is the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. The orange planet Mars can be found directly above Spica by an amount that decreases from eight to six degrees between the 15th and the 22nd. The slender crescent moon is near Jupiter and Venus on the 16th. Venus is becoming harder to see morning by morning as it appears to draw closer to the sun, while Jupiter and Mars are gradually moving higher into the pre-dawn sky.
The International Space Station will pass directly over Los Angeles on the morning of the 16th, just in time to enjoy it while you are observing the grouping of the moon, Jupiter, and Venus. The ISS will rival Venus as it crosses the sky from the northwestern to the southeastern horizon between 5:54 and 6:01 a.m., and it will be directly overhead at 5:58 a.m.
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, November 18th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.