This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through March 29th, 2017. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The planet Venus can only be seen with difficulty at sunset until Friday the 24th. If you have a perfectly flat western horizon, Venus will be only one degree high, and about 8 degrees north of the direction of the sun’s setting at 7:09 p.m. Venus is then in conjunction with the sun, which is the result of it passing nearly between the Earth and the sun. On the following morning, at 6:50 a.m. Venus will be easier to see. It will then be 6 degrees above the eastern horizon, slightly north of where the sun will appear. At either time, Venus will appear as an extremely slender crescent through telescopes and binoculars.
A glimpse of the sun, even at sunrise or sunset, through binoculars or a telescope can damage your eyes! At this conjunction, it is important to search for Venus either after sunset or before sunrise in order to eliminate the possibility of eye damage from an accidental look at the sun. Be sure that the sun is fully below the horizon when you make your observation!
Because the atmosphere of Venus bends sunlight, the horns of its crescent will wrap more than halfway around the planet. Starting on the 25th, Venus begins an 8-month period of absence from the evening sky and an equal period of visibility in the morning sky.
The giant planet Jupiter, in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, is the brilliant object appearing low in the east before the sky fully darkens. Jupiter is highest in the south when it transits at about 2:00 a.m.
The ringed planet Saturn is the bright golden object in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. It rises above the east-southeast horizon by 1:30 a.m., and crosses the meridian in the south shortly before sunrise.
The moon is visible as waning crescent before sunrise until the 26th, and is new on the evening of the 27th. The waxing crescent moon becomes visible above the western horizon after sunset on the 28th. The star-like object to the lower right of the Moon on the 29th is the planet Mercury.
The comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak passes through the Big Dipper and is above the horizon all night long. Although it is predicted to be bright enough to observe through binoculars and small telescopes from dark sky locations, recent reports indicate that it appears diffuse and may be hard to see. The comet shares the same telescopic field with the deep-sky objects planetary nebula M97 and galaxy M108 on the night of March 21-22. A detailed finder map is available from the Sky and Telescope Website.
The weekend of the 24th is the best time this year for a Messier Marathon. Messier objects, including M97 and M108, are from a catalogue that includes 110 objects. It was assembled by the 18th century astronomer Charles Messier, and these are considered some of the finest telescopic objects visible from the Northern Hemisphere. This year, on the night of March 25-26th, the position of the sun makes it possible to see all 110 Messier objects in a single night between dusk and dawn! Some astronomy clubs will hold Messier Marathons on Saturday night, the 25th. Amateur astronomer Richard Bell has a Website that outlines how to conduct a Messier Marathon.
The International Space station makes a fine appearance over Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, March 29. The ISS will exceed the brightness of any celestial object then visible when it crosses the sky from the southwest to the northeast between 7:36 and 7:43 p.m. It will pass overhead, within 12 degrees of the zenith, at 7:39 p.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, April 1st.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.