This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, January 14, 2015. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California: The innermost planets, Mercury and Venus, are easy to see above the southwest horizon during evening twilight. By 5:30 p.m., the sky is dark enough to see Mercury as a bright point beneath the much brighter Venus. Mercury will appear to approach Venus until Sunday evening, the 11th, when the planets are separated by less than a degree. On following evenings, Mercury will appear farther below Venus. Through a telescope, Venus appears fully lit and 10 arcseconds across, while Mercury appears gibbous and about 7 arcseconds wide.
The orange planet Mars moves from Capricornus the Sea Goat to Aquarius the Water Carrier on the 8th. It appears in the southwest, about twice as high as Venus in the early evening.
This is the best week to see comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2. The comet was discovered by Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy last August, and has brightened to magnitude 4. It is now bright enough to see in binoculars even from light-polluted urban conditions, and is easy to see by unaided eye from dark wilderness locations, high in the mountains or in the desert, far from artificial light. What surprises most people is how large the round, fuzzy coma, or head of the comet, is. It appears more than half as wide as the full moon! This week, the comet appears between 10 and 20 degrees to the right of Orion the Hunter, and ends up in western Taurus the Bull. A finder chart is supplied on our special comet Lovejoy webpage. Comet Lovejoy is closest to earth, 44 million miles away, on the 7th, and is closest to the sun, 119 million miles out on February 1. It will then begin its 7,000 year, 110 billion mile journey to the far point of its orbit, in the Kuiper belt. Comet Lovejoy will be one of the objects shown through telescopes at Griffith Observatory through at least January 24, weather permitting.
The brilliant planet Jupiter, in Leo the Lion, rises above the east-northeast horizon at 7:30 p.m., and is well placed for telescopic observation by about 9:00 p.m. It is highest in the south at 2:30 a.m., and can still be seen in the west at sunrise. On Thursday night, the 8th, telescope-equipped observers can see Jupiter’s moon Europa overlap, or occult, the moon Ganymede. This occultation will take place between 10:22 p.m. and 10:36 p.m.
The waning moon changes from gibbous to last quarter on Tuesday the 13th. It appears near Jupiter on the 7th. Moonrise changes from 7:40 p.m. on the 7th to 1:04 a.m. on the 14th.
The ringed planet Saturn, in Libra the Scales, is visible 20 degrees above the southeast horizon at 5:30 a.m., at the start of dawn. A telescope will show the planet’s spectacular ring system.
The best appearance of the International Space Station this week in the skies of Los Angeles will happen Thursday morning, January 8. The brilliant satellite will emerge from earth’s shadow 20 degrees above the west-southwest horizon at 5:53 a.m. The ISS should outshine Jupiter as it appears 50 degrees high in the northwest at 5:55 a.m., and reaches the northeast horizon at 5:58 a.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 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, January 24.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.