The Griffith Observatory Sky Report
This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, December 11, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
Planet Venus reaches its greatest brilliance on Friday, December 6. Blazing at magnitude -4.6, Venus is visible in the southwest for two hours after sunset. It can be seen even earlier, in broad daylight, as a tiny white speck against the blue sky. Binoculars should show the planet’s crescent phase. Look for Venus when it transits 33 degrees above the southern horizon at 2:40 p.m.
The moon brightens this week, appearing crescent until it reaches first quarter phase on the 9th and gibbous before it reaches full on the 17th. The moon will appear in the southwest, not far from Venus, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. The time of moonset changes from 6:58 p.m. on the 4th to 1:27 a.m. on the 11th.
The second brightest planet, Jupiter, is in Gemini the Twins. It rises in the east-northeast shortly after darkness falls, and is nearly overhead at 2 a.m. before sinking low in the west at dawn. The planet’s four brightest moons can be seen in steadily held binoculars, while a telescope can show a wealth of cloud details and shadows of Jupiter’s moons as they transit the planet’s disk.
The planet Mars appears as a bright orange star in Virgo the Maiden, midway between the eastern horizon and the zenith at dawn. A large telescope and high magnification are needed to make out the white north polar cap and dusky markings of the Marian desert, as Mars is still on the far side of its orbit from us.
Comet ISON did not survive its close brush with the sun on Thanksgiving, but another comet, Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) is putting on a good show for binocular users and small telescopes before dawn, especially for locations far from light pollution in the mountains or the desert. The comet displays a green coma of magnitude 5 and a slender tail, several degrees long. It is located in Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, and is 20 degrees high in the east-northeast at dawn. A finder chart is located on our comet page.
Look to the west at 11:13 p.m. on Thursday, December 5, when an Atlas V rocket is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base to send a reconnaissance satellite and many tiny satellites, called cubesats, to orbit. Web coverage of the launch will be provided on the United Launch Alliance website (not for ios).
The International Space Station will pass above Los Angeles on the morning of Sunday, December 8. Outshining Jupiter, the ISS will emerge from Earth’s shadow when 38 degrees high in the northwest at 4:42 a.m., will appear highest when 66 degrees high in the southwest a minute later, and will move to the south-southeast horizon at 4:47 a.m.
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, January 11.
From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.