This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through June 15th, 2016. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The moon grows from waxing crescent on the 8th, when it sets at 11:19 p.m., to waxing gibbous on the 15th, when it sets at 2:45 a.m. It is first quarter on the night of the 12th.
Brilliant planet Jupiter, in the constellation Leo the Lion, is high in the southwest sky after sunset. It sets in the west at about 1:00 a.m. Through a telescope, Jupiter’s largest oval storm, the Great Red Spot, is visible to West Coast observers at 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 8th, Saturday the 11th, and Monday the 13th. On Sunday the 12th, the first quarter moon appears close to Jupiter.
The planet Mars, in the constellation Libra the Scales, appears bright and orange in the southeast during evening twilight. It crosses the meridian in the south at about 11:00 p.m., and sets in the west-southwest five hours later. The moon is close to Mars on the 17th. Mars is well placed for telescopic observation between 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.
The ringed planet Saturn, in the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, appears 18 degrees to the lower left of Mars. Saturn can be seen between Mars and the horizon as the sky darkens. Later in the night, Saturn appears to the left of Mars. Most telescopes will easily let you see Saturn’s spectacular rings. The public telescopes of Griffith Observatory currently feature the moon, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.
Comet C/2013 X1 PanSTARRS, glowing at magnitude 6.4, is bright enough to be seen easily through binoculars. Through binoculars it appears as a fuzzy round cloud, half the angular size of the moon, or 15 arcminutes across. From the southern hemisphere, comet PanSTARRS is overhead, but from the northern hemisphere, the comet is very low in the south before dawn. The comet leaves the constellation Pisces Australis the Southern Fish and enters Microscopium the Microscope on the 14th. Comet PanSTARRS requires a dark location and a clear southern horizon for observation and it can be observed between 2:00 a.m. and the start of dawn, at 3:57 a.m. This observing window is free of moonlight until the 15th. A finder chart is posted on the Griffith Observatory comet page.
The International Space Station will make a brief but spectacular appearance over Los Angeles on the evening of Monday the 13th. The ISS should appear brighter than Jupiter in the northwest at 9:53 p.m., and is highest, 73 degrees above the northeast horizon at 9:56 p.m. Less than a minute later, the ISS will quickly fade into the Earth’s shadow while still 69 degrees high in the east.
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, June 11th, from 2:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org