The Griffith Observatory Sky Report
This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report for the week ending Wednesday, December 18, 2013. Here is what’s happening in the skies of Southern California:
The moon lights the sky most of the night this week, and is full on Tuesday the 17th. The traditional name for December’s full moon is the “full cold moon.” The Chinese probe Chang-e 3 is scheduled to make the first controlled landing on the moon’s surface since that of the automated Soviet Luna 24 sample return mission in 1976. The landing is targeted for the moon’s Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows), and may take place at 7:35 a.m., PST on Sunday morning, December 14. The landing and the release of a sophisticated rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit), five hours later may carried live on the English news service of the national Chinese Television, CCTV9.
The planet Venus continues to blaze in the southwest for about two hours after sunset. After the 11th, it will start to appear noticeably lower in the sky each evening as it approaches conjunction with the sun next month. Binoculars can show the slender crescent phase of Venus.
Jupiter, the second brightest planet, is in Gemini the Twins. It appears above the east-northeast horizon during evening twilight and is visible almost all night long. The planet is nearly overhead at 1:30 a.m., then slowly sinks to west by dawn.
Orange planet Mars, in Virgo the Maiden, is more than halfway between the southern horizon and overhead when dawn starts. A large telescope is needed to see markings on the still distant planet.
The ringed planet Saturn, in Libra the Scales, appears as a bright golden star, low in the southeast when dawn starts. A telescope can reveal the north side of Saturn’s ring system, now tilted 22 degrees in our direction.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) appears near the “Keystone” of the constellation Hercules this week. It can be seen low in the east-northeast just before dawn, and can be observed without interference from moonlight until the morning of the 14th. Recent reports indicate that it is easily visible in ordinary binoculars from areas free from light pollution and glows at magnitude 5.5. A half-degree long tail extends to the upper left of Lovejoy’s coma. A finder chart appears on our comet Lovejoy page.
The Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak on Friday night and early Saturday morning, December 13/14. Light from the waxing gibbous moon will hinder observation until it sets at 4:40 a.m., only 20 minutes before dawn starts. In spite of the less than ideal conditions, take some time after 10 p.m. to look to the northeast for a few bright Geminid meteors.
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 email@example.com.