This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending April 8, 2015. Here’s what is happening in the skies of southern California.
The entire west coast of the U.S. will have a good view of a total lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, April 4. The moon’s eastern side will be slightly shaded by earth’s fuzzy outer shadow, or penumbra, and may be noticed after 2:30 a.m. The most noticeable part of the eclipse, the passage through the inner shadow, or umbra, lasts from 3:45 a.m. until 6:44 a.m. The moon will be totally eclipsed for only 4½ minutes, starting at 4:58 a.m., making this period of lunar eclipse totality the shortest of the century. Normally, the moon does not completely disappear during totality, but remains visible, illuminated only by sunlight that has been bent and filtered through earth’s atmosphere. The filtered sunlight tints the moon with a coppery glow. The moon will start to move out of the umbra at 5:06 a.m. and will completely leave it the same minute that the moon sets in Los Angeles, at 6:44 a.m. Binoculars are a great help in seeing the progress of the eclipse and coloration of the moon during totality. Griffith Observatory will NOT be open to the public for this event, but will stream the eclipse live on the Internet.
From sunset until 10:00 p.m., the brightest planet, Venus, gleams in the western sky. A telescope is needed to see the gibbous phase of Venus.
Jupiter, in Cancer the Crab, is the second brightest planet. It starts the evening high in the southern sky and moves to the west-northwest horizon, where it sets at 3:30 a.m. Jupiter’s four large moons–the Galilean satellites–can be seen through steadily-held binoculars. Use a telescope to see details of Jupiter’s cloudy atmosphere. Jupiter is currently a featured target of Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The ringed planet Saturn is in Scorpius the Scorpion, where it outshines that constellation’s brightest star, Antares. Saturn can be seen low in the east-southeast at midnight, and is highest in the south just before dawn. A telescope will reveal several of Saturn’s numerous moons and its magnificent ring system. Saturn will become visible in the evening sky late in the spring.
The best appearance by the International Space Station over Los Angeles this week happens on Friday night. The ISS will appear in the northeast at 8:19 p.m., pass overhead seconds before 8:23 p.m., and will vanish into earth’s shadow while still 18 degrees high in the northeast at 8:25 p.m. In brightness, the space station should easily exceed Jupiter and nearly equal Venus.
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 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 25.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.