The Griffith Observatory Sky Report
This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Here is what’s happening in the skies of southern California:
As the sky darkens after sunset, look to the south to see a line of four bright objects. On the right, in the west-southwest, is the blue-white star Spica, brightest of Virgo the Maiden. To the upper left of Spica is the orange planet Mars. The angular distance between Mars and Spica will double this week, from 2 to 4 degrees. Twenty-three degrees to the left of Spica, about twice the diameter of your clenched fist as seen from arm’s length, is the golden planet Saturn, in Libra the Scales. A telescope will show the stunning rings of Saturn, now opened 21 degrees from edge-on to us. Saturn and its rings are currently featured as part of the free public telescope program at Griffith Observatory. The fourth bright object, 23 degrees to the left of Saturn, is the orange star Antares of Scorpius the Scorpion. While the star marks the heart of the heavenly scorpion, it is named for its fiery color. “Ares” is Greek for Mars, and “Antares” means the rival of Mars. Now you can see how closely the star and planet match each other in hue.
The phase of the moon is waning gibbous until it changes to last quarter on the night of the 18th. It then is waning crescent through the rest of the week. On the morning of Tuesday the 22nd, the moon is posed 1½ degree from the bright orange star Aldebaran of Taurus the Bull.
The brightest planet, Venus, rises at 4:03 a.m. About half an hour before sunrise, at 5:27 a.m., Venus is 18 degrees high in the east-northeast. At the same time, the innermost planet, Mercury, is to the lower left of Venus, and midway between Venus and the horizon.
Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2) should emerge from the sun’s glare into possible binocular visibility on the 19th. On that morning, comet Jacques will be only 13 arc-minutes to the left of the star El Nath (beta Tauri), the star that marks the northern horn of Taurus the Bull. El Nath does double-duty by marking the unofficial lower-left point of the pentagram of Auriga, the Charioteer. Finding the comet through a telescope on that date should be just a matter of pointing it at the star. By the 23rd, the comet will be close to the center of Auriga, about 3 degrees to the upper left of El Nath. An article about the comet by Universe Today contains finder charts.
The International Space Station will make an early-morning pass over Los Angeles on Thursday the 17th. The ISS will appear suddenly from out of earth’s shadow when nearly overhead, at 3:56 a.m., and will travel to the northeast horizon during the next three minutes.
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.
Updates and other items of interest to Sky Report readers can be followed on Twitter.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.