Weekly Sky Report
The Griffith Observatory Sky Report
This is the Griffith Observatory Sky Report through February 21st, 2019. Here’s what’s happening in the skies of southern California.
The moon shines brightly nearly all night long. Its phase changes from waxing gibbous to full on the 19th, and then it is waning gibbous before the last quarter on the 26th.
The two brightest stars of the nighttime sky are highest in the sky within the same hour. The most brilliant, Sirius in Canis Major the Big Dog, reaches the meridian, its highest point in the southern sky, at 9:00 p.m. on the 14th and at 8:32 p.m. on the 21st. The second brightest star, Canopus––the brightest star in the constellation Carina the Ship’s Keel––is much harder to find. This is because it is almost too far south to see from Los Angeles. When it crosses the meridian, it is only 3½ degrees above the south point of the horizon, and even on the clearest nights it shines through so much air when viewed from southern California it appears no brighter than the main stars of the Big Dipper. To see Canopus, you will need an unobstructed view of the southern horizon, as we have at Griffith Observatory, and extremely clear weather. Canopus crosses the meridian 22 minutes before Sirius, at 8:38 p.m. on the 14th and at 8:10 p.m. on the 21st. After the sun, Sirius is the nearest star visible to the unaided eye from Los Angeles. It is 8.6 light years away, and is 25 times as luminous as the sun. Sirius has a companion white dwarf star only six percent as luminous as the sun that is notoriously hard to see even through large telescopes. Canopus is about 310 light years away––about 36 times farther than Sirius––but the dimming effect on the brightness of the star is largely offset by its much greater brightness; the luminosity of Canopus is 10,700 times that of the sun!
Early risers may enjoy the grouping of a bright star and three planets. At 6:00 a.m., the planets Venus, Jupiter and Saturn are clustered low in the southeast sky, close to the bright star Antares in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. On the 14th, the brightest planet, Venus, appears to the upper right of Saturn, and far to the right of Venus is the second brightest object, Jupiter. The orange-hued star Antares is to the right of Jupiter. Over the next few mornings, Venus appears to move closer to Saturn until, on the 18th, Venus is only one degree to the upper right of Saturn. By the 21st, Venus will have moved to be 3½ degrees to the lower left of Saturn.
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 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, March 16th.
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From Griffith Observatory, I’m Anthony Cook, and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.