Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:

The moon becomes full just before dawn on Saturday the 12th. The traditional American nickname of July’s full moon is the Buck Moon. By Tuesday the 15th, moonrise will occur at 10:30 p.m., 45 minutes after night falls.

As darkness falls, there is a noticeable grouping of four bright objects in the south.  At the start of the week, from right to left they are the planet Mars, the bright star Spica of Virgo the Maiden, the planet Saturn in Libra the Scales, and Antares, the brightest star of Scorpius the Scorpion. These objects have noticeable hues. Mars and Antares are a similar shade of orange. Antares, in fact, is an ancient Greek name meaning the “rival” or “match” of Mars. The star Spica contrasts with Mars, and shines with a blue-white light. Saturn has a golden-yellow glow. Mars will appear to approach, then pass Spica this week. On Sunday the 13th, Mars will be 1.3 degrees north of Spica, and by the 15th, the planet will be 1.6 degrees to the upper left of the star. The spectacular rings of Saturn continue to be featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.

The brightest planet, Venus, appears in the east-northeast about two hours before sunrise. About 30 minutes before sunrise, binoculars will help you to find the innermost planet, Mercury, to the lower left of Venus and midway between Venus and the horizon. The two planets approach to within 6 degrees of each other on the morning of the 16th.

Comet C/2014 K1 PanSTARRS has achieved binocular brightness and can be seen briefly, low in the west-northwest and to the right of the “sickle” of Leo the Lion, after darkness falls for the next few days. A finder chart, and additional information about the comet is available from Sky and Telescope. The comet will reappear before dawn in August.

The best appearance of the International Space Station above Los Angeles this week will happen on the morning of Wednesday the 16th. The ISS will cross the sky from west-southwest to the northeast between 4:40 a.m., when it emerges from earth’s shadow when 25 degrees above the horizon, until 4:45 a.m., PDT. The orbiting laboratory appears 53 degrees high in the north at 4:41 a.m.

An automated supply mission to the International Space Station is expected to launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Antares booster from Wallops Island, Virginia. Liftoff is scheduled for 10:14 a.m., PDT on Saturday, July 12. The mission will be covered on NASA TV.

The fourth attempt to launch the Orbcom-2 communication satellite and soft-land its SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage in the Atlantic Ocean as a test of rocket reusability should occur during a 33 minute long launch window opening on Monday, July 14 at 6:21 a.m., PDT. Check the SpaceX web site for possible live coverage.

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, August 2.

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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at