The Griffith Observatory Sky Report
This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
As evening twilight deepens, look for an arc of four bright objects in the southern sky. From right to left, they are the blue-white star Spica of Virgo the Maiden, the orange planet Mars, also in Virgo, the golden planet Saturn, in Libra the Scales, and the orange star Antares, of Scorpius the Scorpion. As the week starts, notice how Mars appears close to Spica, while Mars, Saturn, and Antares appear evenly spaced from each other. By the end of the week, Mars will be almost midway between Spica and Saturn. Saturn, with its fantastic system of brilliant rings, remains ideally placed to see through Griffith Observatory’s free public telescopes.
The brightest planet, Venus, rises above the east-northeast horizon just before dawn, and can still be glimpsed at sunrise when it is 20 degrees high. The slender crescent moon is 5 degrees to the lower right of Venus on Thursday the 24th.
The moon free period of late July is the best time to plan a trip to a desert or mountain wilderness location, far from urban light, to see the Milky Way arching up from the south and stretching to the east-northeast in the early evening. The clouds of stars, dust, and gas surrounding the center of our galaxy create a vast mottled glow covering Scorpius and Sagittarius. Even without detailed knowledge of the sky, a careful examination of that region with ordinary binoculars will provide stunning views filled with sheets of stars, punctuated by bright star clusters, bright hazes of star forming nebulae, and opaque silhouettes of the distant clouds of dust and gas waiting still to form into stars. Due to the effects of light pollution, viewing the Milky Way is almost never possible from heavily populated areas.
The south delta Aquariid meteor shower will benefit from the absence of moonlight on the shower’s peak night of Tuesday, July 29/30. The meteors can be seen from 10:00 p.m. until dawn, with their greatest numbers occurring at 3:00 a.m., when their radiant point, in Aquarius the Water Carrier, transits in the south. Even from an excellent and dark viewing location, expect only about 10 Aquariid meteors per hour plus another 10 per hour from other minor showers active then, but none from the bright skies of urban or suburban locations. Some south delta Aquariids are visible for a week centered on the date of maximum. The favorite summer meteor shower, the Perseid, will have to contend with a nearly full moon that spoils its peak activity on August 12/13.
Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques is visible through binoculars in the morning sky in the southern portion of Auriga, the Charioteer. The comet can be seen during the hour before dawn and is located low in the northeast. An article about the comet on the Universe Today website contains finder charts. Recent observations place it at magnitude 6.0, appearing as a very condensed ball, only 2 arcminutes wide. Photographs reveal that the comet has a faint tail.
Another comet, 67/P Chuyumov-Gerasimenko is now being approached by the European Space Agency probe Rosetta. As Rosetta maneuvers to enter orbit around the comet’s nucleus on August 6, images from the probe are revealing the nucleus to consist of two separate objects that appear fused together. The European Space Agency website has images and videos of this strange-looking object. Rosetta houses a landing probe called Philae, which will attempt to touch down on the comet’s surface later this year.
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 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, August 2.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.