This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
The brightest planet, Venus, continues to shine higher, longer, and brighter in the western sky after sunset. When the sky is dark enough, about 30 minutes after sunset, planet Mars becomes visible about 10 degrees below Venus. On Wednesday night, March 11, binoculars will also reveal distant planet Uranus, ½ degree (1 moon diameter) to the lower right of Mars. While Uranus is bright enough to see easily through binoculars, it is 70 times fainter than Mars.
The largest planet, Jupiter, is currently the second-brightest planet in the night sky. It is dazzling in the otherwise dim constellation Cancer the Crab, and occupies the southeast sky after sunset, moving to the south at about 10:30 p.m. Binoculars can reveal Jupiter’s largest moons, the Galilean satellites. The planes of the orbits of these moons are currently aligned with the sun and the Earth, and as a result the moons can appear to cross in front of one another, producing occultations. The moons can also cast shadows on one another, causing eclipses. Occultations and eclipses involving pairs of Jupiter’s moons are only possible for a period of months every six years. These are called mutual satellite events. The best of these events, visible through telescopes from the west coast, are listed on our special web page. A deep eclipse of Europa by the shadow of Callisto happens on the 15th, from 11:46 to 11:58 p.m., PDT. Jupiter is currently one of the objects featured through the public telescopes at Griffith Observatory.
The waning moon changes from gibbous to last quarter on the morning of the 13th, and becomes a very narrow crescent by the 18th. Between the 11th and the 18th the time of moonrise changes from 11:35 p.m. to 4:31 a.m. The moon passes close to the ringed planet Saturn, in Scorpius the Scorpion, on Thursday morning March 12.
The International Space Station will make a spectacular pass over Los Angeles on Thursday morning between 5:34 and 5:37 a.m., PDT. The ISS will emerge suddenly and nearly overhead from Earth’s shadow, and will make its way to the northeast horizon.
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, March 28.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.