This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through May 18th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The moon is high and bright after sunset this week. Its phase changes from waxing crescent to first quarter on the 13th, before turning gibbous. The time of moonset advances from 12:42 a.m. on the 12th to 4:11 a.m. on the 18th.
Jupiter, in the constellation Leo the Lion, is the brightest planet currently visible. Jupiter transits 64 degrees high in the southern sky during the evening twilight and sets at about 2:15 a.m. The moon will appear only three degrees from Jupiter on Saturday the 14th.
At 10:00 p.m., a trio of bright objects is noticeable just above the southeast horizon. The brightest is the planet Mars in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. The faintest, directly below Mars, is the orange star Antares, Greek for “rival” or “equal” of Mars, because it shares the planet’s hue. The second-brightest member of the trio, about 10 degrees to the lower left of Mars, is the golden planet Saturn, in Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer.
We are now in the prime-time for telescopic Mars observation. Mars will be nearest to earth at the end of the month, and it is only for a few weeks on either side of a close approach, that the major details of Mars are visible through backyard telescopes. Irregular dark regions contrast with brighter ochre-hued portions of the planet’s dusty deserts. The white of the polar caps of Mars and the hazy veil of clouds can also be spotted. On Saturday morning the 14th, the dark spot called Meridiani Sinus, used by astronomers to mark the Prime Meridian of Mars, will be visible close to the center of the planet’s disk at 1:27 a.m., PDT, when Mars is highest in the sky.
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 free 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, May 14th.
Follow the Sky Report on Twitter for updates of astronomy and space-related events.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org