This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through August 17th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The annual Perseid meteor shower is expected to reach its regular peak during the late night of Thursday the 11th to the early morning of Friday the 12th. California is ideally placed to see the traditional one-per-minute maximum between moonset at 1:08 a.m. and the start of dawn at 4:40 a.m. Several meteor experts anticipate that streams of material from the shower’s source comet, 109P/Swift-Tuttle, have been shifted closer to earth by the gravitation of Jupiter and may enhance the strength of the shower several hours before the traditional maximum. This could favor observers in Europe and eastern North America, but its timing could also mean that the west coast may have a good show starting at 10:00 p.m. in spite of bright moonlight for the first three hours. No one really knows what to expect, but rates close to or exceeding 100 meteors per hour are possible. Because most meteors are hidden by light pollution in urban and suburban locations, Griffith Observatory will not be open for the meteor shower. You are encouraged to observe from wilderness locations in the mountains or deserts. Another chance to see the meteors, in slightly reduced numbers, will occur on Saturday morning, between moonset at 1:51 a.m. and dawn, at 4:42 a.m. More information about how to watch the meteor shower is available on Griffith Observatory’s YouTube channel.
All five bright planets and the moon can be seen together in the sky starting about 30 minutes after sunset. Venus is located about 5 degrees above the west-southwest horizon. The planet Jupiter, in Leo the Lion, is bright and obvious to the upper left of Venus, and between them is fainter Mercury. To the south, the bright orange planet is Mars in Scorpius the Scorpion. To the upper left of Mars is the golden planet Saturn, in Ophiuchus the Snake Bearer. Below Saturn is the glittering orange star Antares, the brightest star of Scorpius.
The waxing moon is first quarter phase on the 10th. It lights the night sky for a longer interval each successive night. Moonset occurs at 12:28 a.m. on the 11th and at 5:30 a.m. on the 17th. The gibbous moon is above Mars and Saturn on the 11th. Griffith Observatory’s YouTube channel has an animation of this month’s motions of the planets and the moon. These objects are featured through Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes.
The International Space Station will make two spectacular passes through the evening skies. On Sunday the 14th, the space station will appear above the northwest horizon at 8:57 p.m. and outshine Jupiter when it reaches its highest point, 47 degrees above the northeast horizon at 9:00 p.m. A minute later, the satellite will vanish into earth’s shadow while still 37 degrees high in the east. On Tuesday the 16th, the ISS will appear in the northeast at 8:47 p.m. It will be at its highest, 58 degrees high in the southwest, at 8:50 p.m., and will remain visible for another 90 seconds before reaching earth’s shadow and vanishing 27 degrees above the south-southeast 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. Because of heavy summer traffic, we advise arriving as early as possible! 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, September 10.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.