This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through February 14, 2018. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The moon is last quarter on the 7th. On the following mornings leading up to the new moon on the 15th, its phase is waning crescent. It rises at 12:11 a.m. on the 7th and at 5:58 a.m. on the 14th.
At dawn over the next few mornings, the moon will join the celestial lineup of the bright planets Jupiter, in the constellation Libra the Scales, Mars, in Scorpius the Scorpion, and Saturn, in Sagittarius the Archer. Look for the moon above Jupiter on the 7th, above orange Mars on the 9th, and close to golden Saturn on the 11th.
The moon and planets show interesting detail when they are magnified. Binoculars are sufficient to show you the largest craters and craggy mountains on the rugged face of the moon. Jupiter’s four largest moons can also be seen through binoculars, looking like tiny stars clustered around the brilliant disk of the planet.
A more powerful telescope will reveal detail on Jupiter itself. Dark bands parallel to its equator, called belts, cross Jupiter’s cloud-covered face. Bright regions, called zones, separate the belts. Irregular storms are also scattered about, and Jupiter’s colorful and giant oval storm, the Great Red Spot can be seen whenever Jupiter’s ten-hour rotation brings it into view. West-coast observers watching Jupiter through telescopes at 6:00 a.m. can see the Great Red Spot on the 9th, 11th, and 13th.
Mars is still on the distant side of its orbit from us; it will be four times closer and look four times larger at the end of July. Even now, however, by using high magnification, you may see some of the largest dusky markings on the planet. This week, the slender, long marking on the Martian equator, called Sinus Sabaeus, is prominent. One side ends in a dark knob that may remind you of a clenched fist. This spot is called Meridiani Sinus.
Saturn’s rings are spectacular through nearly any telescope. They currently form a broad oval, titled 26 degrees from edge-on to our line of sight. Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn will all be visible in the evening sky, late in the summer.
Free views of the Sun during the day and of the moon, and other interesting 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, February 24th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at email@example.com.