This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, February 26, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
Jupiter, in Gemini the Twins, is the brightest evening planet. The brilliant planet is high in the northeast during evening twilight and is nearly overhead at about 8:30 p.m. It is ideally placed for viewing though Griffith Observatory’s public telescopes. The planet’s Great Red Spot is on the side of Jupiter facing Los Angeles at 9:00 p.m. on February 20th, 22nd, and 23rd.
Orange Planet Mars, in Virgo the Maiden, rises above the east-southeast horizon at 10:00 p.m. It is best observed between midnight and dawn, and crosses the meridian at 3:30 a.m. When viewed through a telescope, it now appears two-thirds as large as it will at its closest approach in April.
The planet Saturn trails Mars through the sky by two hours, and rises at midnight. Shining from Libra the Scales, Saturn is highest at dawn. Any astronomical telescope will show the planet’s stunning system of rings and several of its many moons.
The brightest planet, Venus, appears in the east-southeast at 4:00 a.m. and is 26 degrees high in the southeast at sunrise. A telescope will show it in crescent phase.
Starting on the 23rd, Mercury, the innermost planet, re-appears in the morning sky 30 minutes before sunrise. Mercury will then be located 5 degrees (or within a binocular field of view) of the east-southeast horizon.
The phase of the waning moon is gibbous until the 22nd, when it is last quarter. On the following morning, it is crescent. It will pass Mars on the 19th, Saturn on the 21st and Venus on the 25th and 26th. The Chinese “Jade Rabbit” rover, Yutu, will start another hazardous two-week-long lunar night when the sun sets it on Thursday afternoon (Pacific Time). China regained communication with remote-controlled Yutu last week after the rover malfunctioned and had been all but given up for dead after the previous lunar night.
The brightest satellite, the International Space Station, should outshine Jupiter when it passes through the northern sky on Sunday, February 23. The ISS should appear above the northwest horizon at 7:02 p.m. and climb to 48 degrees above the northeast horizon at 7:05 p.m., only a few seconds before the satellite slips into earth’s shadow.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, in training for a future space mission, will speak at Griffith Observatory in one of two free NASA public programs at the Observatory on Thursday, February 20. Please see our web page for more information.
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 Tuesday-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, March 8. That occasion will also be used to honor the memory of the legendary telescope builder and astronomy popularizer John Dobson.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.