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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Aug 02, 2015

August 2015 guide to the five visible planets

Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all close to morning or evening twilight glare in August, 2015. Meanwhile, Saturn is up from nightfall until late night.

It may be hard to believe, but Saturn is the predominate planet in August 2015. The other four visible planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter - are obscured by the sun's glare for much of the month. Read more

Saturn is the only easy-to-see visible planet in August, 2015. The other four visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter – are obscured by the sun’s glare for much of the month. Read more

Saturn rules this month! And that’s very unusual, because Saturn is the faintest and least noticeable of the bright planets. So why is Saturn top dog in August, 2015? Only because Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter – the other planets visible to the eye alone – all are hiding in the glare of evening or morning twilight throughout this month. Maybe they’re just not wanting to be upstaged by this August’s awesome Perseid meteor shower. Follow the links below to learn more about August planets.

Evening planets in August 2015

Brilliant Venus disappears in sunset glare by mid-August

Bright Jupiter lost in sunset glare in early August

Mercury up in evening twilight, best from Southern Hemisphere

Saturn easily visible from nightfall until late night

Morning planets in August 2015

Mars rises at – or shortly before – dawn

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Brilliant Venus disappears in sunset glare by mid-August. Venus is the brightest planet and third-brightest sky object overall, after the sun and moon. When it’s visible, it’s very, very prominent in our sky. But it’s not easily visible this month. In August 2015, Venus moves out of the evening sky and into the morning sky. This happens officially on August 15, 2015, when Venus will pass nearly 8 degrees south of the sun as seen from our earthly perspective. If you are blessed with an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunrise, you’ll probably see Venus low in the east, about an hour before sunrise, sometime during the last week of August, 2015.

The real challenge is to see Venus in the west at evening dusk in early August. At mid-northern latitudes, Venus sets roughly 45 minutes after the sun, and at temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Venus sets over an hour after sunset in early August.

In other words, the Southern Hemisphere has the advantage over the Northern Hemisphere for catching Venus in the evening sky in the first part of the month.

Southerly latitudes might even see Venus with Jupiter and Mercury toward the end of the first week of August, though only for a brief while after sunset. Click here to find out more. Thereafter, Venus and Jupiter rapidly sink into the sun’s glare and disappears from the evening sky, while Mercury remains an evening object for the rest of the month. But Mercury, too, is better from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere.

From the Northern Hemisphere, It'll be extremely hard to see the planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter sitting in the glare of evening twilight in early August 2015. All three planets follow the sun beneath the horizon before darkness falls. Read more

From the Northern Hemisphere, it’ll be tough to spot the planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter sitting in the glare of evening twilight in early August 2015. All three planets follow the sun beneath the horizon before darkness falls. Read more.

Bright Jupiter lost in sunset glare in early August. Jupiter shines more brilliantly than any star. It’s the second-brightest planet after Venus. Both Venus and Jupiter will transition over into the morning sky in August, 2015.

In late June and early July, Venus and Jupiter staged their closest conjunction until August 27, 2016, and displayed a second – though less close – conjunction in the evening sky on July 31 – the same date as this year’s Blue Moon.

Now these two brilliant worlds are heading for their third and final conjunction of the year in the morning sky on October 26, 2015.

By a wonderful coincidence, as Venus and Jupiter showcase their final conjunction of the year – on October 26 – Venus will reach its greatest eastern (morning) elongation from the sun.

Moreover, the year’s closest grouping of three planets – Venus, Mars and Jupiter – will also take place on October 26. That’s a big deal because the next planetary trio won’t occur again until January, 2021!

If you live in the Southern Hemisphere or the northern tropics, you might catch the conjunction of Jupiter and Mercury in the evening sky after sunset on August 6 or 7. Have binoculars on hand for the conjunction will take place near the horizon and in the murk of evening dusk. It’ll be their closest conjunction since May 22, 2012; and closer one won’t happen again until November 27, 2018.

Normally, if you have binoculars or a telescope, it’s fairly easy to see Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light on or near the same plane. They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo, who discovered these great Jovian moons in 1610. In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. In August of 2015, however, Jupiter’s moons will have a hard time competing with the sun’s glare.

These moons circle Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we get to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons through a high-powered telescope. Click here or here or here for more details.

Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

The Southern Hemisphere has the advantage over the Northern Hemisphere for catching the conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter. In addition, southerly latitudes are more likely to spot Venus and Regulus, the constellation Leo's brightest star. Read more.

The Southern Hemisphere has the advantage over the Northern Hemisphere for catching the conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter on August 6 or 7. Those at southerly latitudes are also more likely to spot Venus and Regulus, the constellation Leo’s brightest star. Read more.

Mercury up in evening twilight, best from Southern Hemisphere. Mercury is our solar system’s innermost planet and always stays near the sun in our sky. Mercury passed out of the morning sky and into the evening sky in July, 2015. Mercury will remain an evening object for an unusually long time – till the very end of September, 2015. It will be a real challenge to catch Mercury and Jupiter in conjunction at the end of the first week of August – especially from northerly latitudes.

Mercury and Jupiter after sunset on August 6 and 7?

For the Southern Hemisphere, August and September present Mercury’s best appearance in the evening sky for all 2015. By mid-August, Mercury will set about 90 minutes after the sun. By the month’s end, Mercury will set a whopping two hours after sunset, and Mercury’s great evening apparition will continue throughout the most of September – in the Southern Hemisphere and the northern tropics.

Those residing at northerly latitudes aren’t nearly as lucky. At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury sets a maximum of one hour after the sun in late August. Try scanning with binoculars in the glow of evening dusk.

At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, this world actually sets after the end of evening twilight from about mid-August to mid-September. Look for Mercury over the sunset point on the horizon as dusk gives way to darkness. Click here to find out Mercury’s setting time in your sky, and for the time at which astronomical twilight ends.

Binoculars are always recommended to enhance sky views! Click here for recommended almanacs. They can help you know when Mercury sets in your sky.

Mercury will stay in the evening sky until September 30, 2015. Then it’ll pass into the morning sky, to give the Northern Hemisphere its best morning apparition of Mercury for the year.

Distances of the planets from the sun

This is an excellent time to see Saturn in the night sky, since Earth recently passed between it and the sun.  Photo taken June 13, 2015 by John Nelson at Puget Sound, Washington.  Thanks, John!  EarthSky planet guide for 2015.

This is an excellent time to see Saturn in the night sky, since Earth recently passed between it and the sun. Photo taken June 13, 2015 by John Nelson at Puget Sound, Washington. Thanks, John!

The moon moves eastward relative to the background stars and planets of the Zodiac. The dark side of the waxing moon  points eastward - in the moon's direction of of travel. The green line depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

The moon moves eastward relative to the background stars and planets of the Zodiac. The dark side of the waxing moon points eastward – in the moon’s direction of of travel. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

Saturn easily visible from nightfall until late night. Throughout August 2015, the golden planet Saturn comes out at nightfall. Depending on where you live worldwide, Saturn sets at late evening or after midnight.

Watch for the moon to shine close to Saturn (and the star Antares) on August 21, August 22 and August 23.

Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings. For that, you need a small telescope.

Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 24o from edge-on in August 2015, exhibiting their northern face. A few years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May, 2032.

As darkness gives way to the first stirrings of dawn on Tuesday, August 11, let the waning moon guide your eye to the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux. The planet Mars may be difficult to catch so close to the horizon.

As darkness gives way to the first stirrings of dawn on Tuesday, August 11 (one of the peak mornings of the awesome 2015 Perseid meteor shower), let the waning moon guide your eye to the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux. The planet Mars will be difficult to catch so close to the horizon.

Mars rises at – or shortly before – dawn. Mars officially passed into the morning sky on June 14, 2015. That’s when it was most behind the sun from Earth for this year.

Earth and Mars travel in orbit as similar speeds (Earth at 18 miles per second, Mars at 15 miles per second). So it takes awhile for Mars to come out of the sun’s glare, and, when it finally does so, Mars always lingers in our predawn sky for several months. That’s going to be the case in northern autumn, 2015.

In August, most likely – although Mars is technically up before sunrise – you likely won’t see the Red Planet. Try using the moon to guide your eye to Mars before sunrise on August 11 and 12. Binoculars will be helpful!

Mars will be easier to see in late August and September. By that time, Mars will rise sooner before sunrise and be higher up at dawn. Plus the dazzling planet Venus will be fairly close to Mars, and Venus can serve as your guide to the Red Planet.

What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

Bottom line: Saturn is the dominant planet in August, 2015. Four of the five visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter – hide in the glare of evening or morning twilight.

By the evening of July 12, Venus and Jupiter were farther apart and lower in the western sky after sunset.  Photo by Robert Kelly.  Thanks, Robert!

By the evening of July 12, Venus and Jupiter were farther apart and lower in the western sky after sunset. Photo by Robert Kelly. Thanks, Robert!

View larger. | Göran Strand in Sweden wrote:

View larger. | Photo taken in early June, 2015 by Göran Strand in Sweden. He wrote: “One of the last nights during the spring when the stars were still visible … ” Follow Fotograf Göran Strand on Facebook, or @astrofotografen on Instagram. Or visit his website.

View larger.| See the little white dot of the planet Venus in the upper right of this photo?  It'll be back to your evening sky in early December.  Helio de Carvalho Vital captured this image on November 18, 2014 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He wrote,

View larger.| Venus near the setting sun on November 18, 2014 by Helio de Carvalho Vital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He wrote, “I managed to capture Venus as it is starting its return to dusk, despite the fact that it is still at a mere 6.2° distance from the sun. The photos show it a few minutes before setting behind the northern side of the 1,021-meter high Tijuca Peak, located some 6.5 km away. It was deeply immersed in the intense glare of the sun, that would set some 13 minutes later.”

Lunar eclipse on the night of October 8, 2014.  The object to the left is the planet Uranus!  This beautiful photo is by Janey Wing Kenyon of Story, Wyoming.

Lunar eclipse on the night of October 8, 2014. The object to the left is the planet Uranus! This beautiful photo is by Janey Wing Kenyon of Story, Wyoming.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014.  Jupiter was close to the twilight then.  In early July, Jupiter will be even closer to the twilight, about to disappear in the sun's glare.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014. Jupiter was close to the twilight then.

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France.

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France. Visit his page on Facebook.

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

Venus by Danny Crocker-Jensen

These are called star trails. It’s a long-exposure photo, which shows you how Earth is turning under the stars. The brightest object here is Jupiter, which is the second-brightest planet, after Venus. This awesome photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Mohamed Laaifat in Normandy, France. Thank you, Mohamed.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

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