Griffith Observatory Sky Report through October 12th, 2016

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This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through October 12th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.

Venus, the brightest planet, can be spotted low in the west-southwest sky shortly after sunset. Planet Saturn, yellow in hue, is visible to the upper left of Venus in the southwest. The sparkling star visible 7 degrees below Saturn is Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius the Scorpion. Orange Mars outshines Saturn, and is in the south-southwest sky in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. Venus sets at about 8:00 p.m., followed by Saturn at 9:30 p.m., and finally Mars at 11:00 p.m.

The outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are available to telescope-equipped observers in the later hours. Neptune is 2.7 billion miles distant and appears in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. It is highest in the southern sky at about 10:30 p.m. Uranus, 1.8 billion miles away in the direction of Pisces the Fishes, crosses the meridian at about 1:00 a.m. Detailed finder charts, such as those provided by Sky and Telescope Magazine, are needed to identify Uranus and Neptune. With high magnification the tiny disk of Uranus has a ghostly green hue and the smaller disk of Neptune has a bluish cast.

The waxing Moon changes phase from crescent to gibbous between the 5th and 12th, and is First Quarter on the night of the 8th. The Moon remains in the sky for a longer period each night. The time of moonset changes from 9:41 p.m. on the 5th to 2:58 a.m. on the 12th. Binoculars or a telescope will provide you with fascinating views of the rugged texture of features along the Moon’s terminator, the border region between the Moon’s day and night sides.

The innermost planet, Mercury, can be seen above the eastern horizon during the dawn, at about 6:00 a.m. The brilliant planet Jupiter will appear below Mercury beginning on the 10th. They appear side-by-side and less than a degree apart on the 11th. On the following mornings, through the 12th, Jupiter appears above Mercury.

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, October 8th, from 2:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at