This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, December 10, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
The planet Mars moves from Sagittarius the Archer to Capricornus the Sea Goat on the 4th. The planet appears orange and as bright as a first magnitude star and is about 20 degrees high in the southwest starting 30 minutes after sunset. Mars sets at about 8:00 p.m.
Brilliant planet Jupiter, in Leo the Lion, rises in the east at about 10:00 p.m. The planet is highest, 70 degrees above the southern horizon, at about 4:30 a.m., and is still visible at sunrise, high in the southwest, on clear mornings.
The ringed planet Saturn, in Libra the Scales, appears about 10 degrees high in the east-southeast about 30 minutes before sunrise. Saturn is returning to view after being hidden in the sun’s glare for more than a month.
The moon’s phase changes from waxing gibbous to full on Saturday morning, the 6th. A traditional name for the full moon in December is the Full Cold Moon. The moon shows a waning phase and rises after sunset through the remainder of the week.
NASA’s vehicle designed to someday carry people beyond the moon – Orion – is scheduled for its maiden flight on Thursday, December 4. The unpiloted test mission is to send Orion to space for nearly two orbits and up to 3,600 miles from earth, testing critical flight and re-entry systems. Orion will be launched on a Delta-IV-heavy booster from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida as early as 4:05 a.m., PST, and splash down about four hours later, close to a waiting recovery ship stationed in the Pacific Ocean near Baja California. Live Internet coverage of the entire mission will be carried on NASA TV.
NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons probe is due to signal its wake-up from hibernation on Saturday, December 6 at 6:30 p.m., PST. This wake-up is scheduled to be the last before the probe’s close encounter with dwarf planet Pluto 219 days later, on July 14, 2015.
The best view of the International Space Station from Los Angeles this week should occur on Monday evening, December 8. The ISS will first appear above the southwest horizon at about 5:39 p.m. It will pass directly overhead (through the zenith) at 5:41 p.m., and will vanish into earth’s shadow at 5:43 p.m., close to the northeast horizon. Shining at magnitude -3.4, the ISS should outshine anything else in the sky at that time.
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 our schedule. The next 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, December 27.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.