This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through February 21, 2018. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The moon is new on the afternoon of the 15th. It then produces a partial solar eclipse that shades portions of Antarctica and South America, but none of this eclipse will be visible from Los Angeles.
The waxing crescent moon will remain in the evening sky for two hours after sunset on the 16th. After that, it will be visible for a longer time on following nights, so by the 21st it will set at 11:37 p.m.
The three brightest planets beyond the Earth’s orbit, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are visible in the southeastern part of the sky at dawn. Jupiter, in the constellation Libra the Scales, is the brightest of these and crosses the meridian at about 5:30 a.m.
Mars, in the constellation adjacent to Libra–Scorpius the Scorpion–can be found 20 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. The brightest star in Scorpius, Antares, is located five degrees below Mars, and it now looks like a near twin to Mars in brightness and color. In fact, the ancient Greek name Antares means the “Rival of Mars.” Over the next five months, as Mars and Earth draw closer together, Mars will appear to brighten. By late July it will look much brighter than Jupiter.
An imaginary line made from Jupiter through Mars and doubled in length will guide you to golden Saturn, visible just above the southeast horizon in the constellation next to Scorpius, Sagittarius the Archer.
A scheduled launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located 150 miles to the west-northwest of Los Angeles, should be visible about 20 minutes before sunrise on Saturday, February 17. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will attempt to launch a Spanish government radar imaging satellite called Paz at 6:14 a.m. At Los Angeles, appears in the direction opposite that of the imminent sunrise, so the illumination of the exhaust of the rocket’s boosters is not expected to be as spectacular as the back-lit evening Falcon 9 launch last December. There will be no attempt to recover the first stage of this rocket, which had once before launched a satellite from Vandenberg.
The International Space Station will pass over Los Angeles on Sunday evening, February 18th between 6:54 and 7:01 p.m. During that time, the ISS will travel from the northwestern horizon to the south-southeastern horizon, and it will appear at its highest, 45 degrees above the southwestern horizon, at 6:57 p.m.
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 24.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.