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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Aug 13, 2014

August 2014 guide to the five visible planets

The waning crescent moon pairs up with Jupiter and Venus at dawn on Saturday, August 23. By the month’s end on Sunday, August 31, the waxing crescent moon joins up with Mars and Saturn in the evening sky.

Think photo opportunity! The moon is near the planets Jupiter and Venus on August 22, August 23 and August 24.

Think photo opportunity! The moon is near the planets Jupiter and Venus on August 22, August 23 and August 24.

The waxing crescent moon shines close to Mercury on  August 27 and Spica on August 28 and August 29

The waxing crescent moon shines close to Mercury on August 27 and Spica on August 28 and August 29

Waning moon close to Jupiter and Venus at dawn August 23

Mars and Saturn pop into view as soon as darkness falls throughout August 2014. In early August, look for golden Saturn, ruddy Mars and blue-white Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, to line up in the southwestern sky. Let the waxing crescent moon help guide you to this bright star and the evening planets on August 1, August 2 and August 3.

Mercury, the innermost planet, transitions into the evening sky on August 8, 2014. However, this world doesn’t climb high enough from the glare of sunset to be visible at mid-northern latitudes. Residents in the Southern Hemisphere may see Mercury late in August 2014, especially as the moon pairs up with Mercury on August 27.

Click here for more detail about the evening planets.

Venus and Jupiter, the sky’s brightest and second-brightest planets, respectively, present the closest planet-planet conjunction of the year in the August morning sky. Jupiter passed into the morning sky on July 24, 2014, and should become visible before sunrise sometime during the second week of August. After watching the Perseid meteors on the expected peak night of August 12-13, cap everything off with a splendid view of Venus and Jupiter at dawn. Here’s a preview of our August 13 program on the upcoming conjunction of Venus and Jupiter.

Click here for more detail about the morning planets.

Special sky events coming up in the last week of August 2014:

Waning moon close to Jupiter and Venus at dawn August 23

Southern climes to view moon, Mercury after sunset August 27

Moon and star Spica low in west after sunset August 28

Moon near Spica, west of two planets at nightfall August 29

Moon east of Spica, west of two planets at nightfall August 30

Moon joins up with Mars and Saturn at nightfall August 31

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Evening planets in August 2014

Mars visible from dusk until late evening.

Saturn from evening dusk until around midnight.

Mercury at dusk, starting late August (at southerly latitudes).

Morning planets in August 2014

Venus before sunrise throughout August.

When will Jupiter return?

What do we mean by visible planet?

By mid-July 2014, Jupiter has disappeared into the sunset glare, but, as darkness falls, Mars and the star Spica are closest to each other on our sky's dome for this year.  You can also see Saturn nearby.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Paulo Vinicius.  Thanks, Paulo!

By mid-July 2014, Jupiter has disappeared into the sunset glare, but, as darkness falls, Mars and the star Spica are closest to each other on our sky’s dome for this year. You can also see Saturn nearby. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Paulo Vinicius. Thanks, Paulo!

Mars,  via Hubble Heritage Project

Mars sometimes appears small through telescopes, and sometimes appears larger! It all depends on where Earth and Mars are in orbit with respect to each other. In April 2014, Earth and Mars were on the same side of the sun, closest in two years. Mars will remain bright throughout the northern summer of 2014. Image via Hubble Heritage Project.

Use the Big Dipper to locate the star Spica and the planet Mars in July 2014.

Use the Big Dipper to locate the star Spica and the planet Mars in July 2014.

Mars visible from evening dusk until late evening. Although we passed between Mars and the sun in April 2014, and although the planet is not getting dimmer as it lags behind us in its larger and slower orbit, Mars appears respectably bright throughout August, 2014. This ruddy world still shines on par with Spica, the constellation Virgo’s brightest star, which is close to Mars on the sky’s dome.

But Mars is about to go on the move again, in front of the background stars, as Earth flies ahead of it in orbit. Mars starts the month in front of the constellation Virgo, and then moves in front of Libra on August 9. Mars meets up with Saturn near the end of the month.

Let the moon guide you to Mars on August 1, August 2 and August 3.

Then, as August 2014 comes to a close, watch for the waxing crescent moon to join up with Mars and Saturn on August 31.

Saturn via ESO/U. of Oxford/L. N. Fletcher/T. Barry

Thermal infrared images of Saturn from the VISIR instrument on ESO’s VLT (center and right) and an amateur visible-light image (left) from Trevor Barry (Broken Hill, Australia). Obtained on January, 2011. Via ESO/U. of Oxford/L. N. Fletcher/T. Barry

Planet Saturn at the April 28, 2013 opposition (day Earth went between sun and Saturn) from EarthSky Facebook friend D.R. Keck Photography.

Planet Saturn at its April 28, 2013 opposition (day Earth went between sun and Saturn in 2013) from EarthSky Facebook friend D.R. Keck Photography.

Saturn as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in early February 2014.  Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004.  Many awesome images!

Saturn as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in early February 2014. Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. Many awesome images!

Saturn from evening dusk until around midnight. This month, as seen from northerly latitudes, the ringed planet Saturn is found in the southwest at nightfall and early evening. This golden-colored world shines in front of the constellation Libra the Scales. Mars moves toward Saturn throughout August 2014, and meets up with Saturn in late August.

Let the moon help guide you to Saturn on August 3 and August 4, and once again on August 31.

Binoculars won’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, but a small telescope will. This month, Saturn is highest for the night at nightfall and should be a fine telescopic object at early evening. Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 21o from edge-on in August 2014, showing us their north face. Several 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.

Mercury and moon, by GregDiesel Landscape Photography

Mercury and moon on February 27, 2014, by GregDiesel Landscape Photography. Greg managed to catch Mercury just at the beginning of its long March 2014 apparition in the predawn sky.

Mercury at dusk, starting late August (at southerly latitudes). Mercury transitions into the evening sky on August 8, 2014. However, this world doesn’t climb high enough from the glare of sunset to be easily visible at mid-northern latitudes. Some of you photographers might catch it, but it’ll be tough to spot with the eye. If you do get a photo, submit to EarthSky.

Meanwhile, people in the Southern Hemisphere may see Mercury late in the month, especially as the moon pairs up with Mercury on August 27. For the Southern hemisphere, the evening apparition of Mercury starting in August 2014 and continuing all the way until early October will be the best showing of Mercury in the evening sky for this year.

Northerly latitudes … tough luck on this one!

By the time dawn came to the western half of the U.S. this morning (February 26), the moon was below Venus.  Even light pollution couldn't diminish the view of them.  Photo from our friend Christy Sanchez in Denver.  Thanks, Christy.

Venus is bright. Even light pollution can’t diminish the view of it. Photo from our friend Christy Sanchez, in Denver, on February 26, 2014. Thanks, Christy.

You don't need a nearby moon to find Venus.  It's the brightest planet and very noticeable when it's above the horizon.  Here is Venus on April 23, 2014 as captured by Asthadi Setyawan in Malang, East Java, Indonesia.  Thank you, Asthadi!

You don’t need a nearby moon to find Venus. It’s the brightest planet and very noticeable when it’s above the horizon. Here is Venus on April 23, 2014 as captured by Asthadi Setyawan in Malang, East Java, Indonesia. Thank you, Asthadi!

Venus before sunrise throughout August. Venus beams in the eastern dawn sky throughout August 2014, though it is slowly but surely sinking into the glare of sunrise. At mid-northern latitudes, the morning “star” rises nearly two hours before sunup at the beginning of month but only somewhat more than one hour before the sun at the month’s end. Jupiter will become visible in the morning sky during the second week of August, and then will pair up with Venus to present the closest planet-planet conjunction of the year on August 18.

The slender waning crescent moon joins up with Venus in the morning sky for several mornings, centered on August 23.

You need a telescope to observe the phases of Venus. Whenever you see Venus in the morning sky, it is always moving away from Earth and its phase is continually waxing (getting broader). The phase of Venus will be hard to discern now, though, through a small telescope, because this world appears nearly full to us. This month, Venus’ disk starts out about 92% illuminated and ends the month about 97% illuminated. Believe it or not, Venus shines at or near its brightest in the morning (or evening) sky when its disk is about one-quarter lit up in sunshine. That’s because, at such times, the disk of Venus is always larger in our sky than when the planet appears full. Venus’ illuminated portion last covered the greatest square area of our sky on February 15, when its disk was 26% illuminated.

Nonetheless, Venus is always bright. It will remain the brightest starlike object in the morning sky until it fades into the sunrise in late September or early October 2014.

When will Jupiter return? Jupiter was the brightest celestial object to light up the evening sky in early July, but by mid-July it disappeared in the sunset glare. Jupiter should return to visibility in the east at early dawn, starting sometime in the second week of August, 2014. It’ll have a wonderful conjunction with Venus – the year’s closest of any two planets – on the morning of August 18.

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: The moon returns to the evening sky in late July, and then “leapfrogs” over a bright star and two bright planets – Saturn and Mars – in the first several days of August. The closest supermoon of the year comes on August 10, in the midst of the 2014 Perseid meteor shower. Jupiter and Venus have a wonderful conjunction – closest of any two planets in 2014 – before dawn on August 18.

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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 disappeared into the sunset glare around mid-July 2014.

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 and one of its moons, Io, on February 28, 2014 via Earthsky Facebook friend Derek Brookes.  Thank you, Derek!

Jupiter and one of its moons, Io, on February 28, 2014 via Earthsky Facebook friend Derek Brookes. Thank you, Derek!

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

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

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

Skywatcher, moon, planet (looks like Venus) from Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, moon, planet (looks like Venus) from Predrag Agatonovic.

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

On the moonless evening of December 3, 2013, Chris Georgia took this gorgeous photo of the constellation Orion (above his head and left of the light pole), the planet Jupiter (brightest star-like object at left), and the Gemini stars to upper left of Jupiter: Castor (at top) and Pollux (at bottom). Thank you so much, Chris! View larger

On the moonless evening of December 3, 2013, Chris Georgia took this gorgeous photo of the constellation Orion (above his head and left of the light pole), the planet Jupiter (brightest star-like object at left), and the Gemini stars to upper left of Jupiter: Castor (at top) and Pollux (at bottom). Thank you so much, Chris! View larger

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.

View larger. | Venus shining above the rock of Asseu, Gulf of Riva Trigoso, Sestri Levante, Ligurian Sea, Genoa, Italy, November 29, 2013, via Maranatha.it Photography.

View larger. | Venus shining above the rock of Asseu, Gulf of Riva Trigoso, Sestri Levante, Ligurian Sea, Genoa, Italy, November 29, 2013, via Maranatha.it Photography.

View larger. | Mars and moon as seen from Hong Kong on October 2, 2013 via EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Thank you, Matthew!  Mars is getting easier to see, but it's still pretty close to the sunrise, and it's relatively faint in contrast to how bright it will become in 2014.

View larger. | Mars and moon as seen from Hong Kong on October 2, 2013 via EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Thank you, Matthew!

View larger. |  EarthSky Facebook friend Peter Wong in Adelaide, Australia captured this image of planets and the star Spica in the west after sunset on September 26, 2013.  As seen from the Southern Hemisphere - where it's spring now - the planets are straight up above the sunset.  Thank you, Peter!

View larger. | EarthSky Facebook friend Peter Wong in Adelaide, Australia captured this image of planets and the star Spica in the west after sunset on September 26, 2013. Thank you, Peter!

View larger. | Moon and Venus on September 7, as captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Ken Christison in North Carolina.  Thank you, Ken!  On Sunday evening - September 8 - the moon will appear much closer to Venus.  The Americas, in particular, will get a dramatically close view of the pair.

View larger. | Here are the moon and Venus on September 7, 2013 as captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Ken Christison in North Carolina. Thank you, Ken!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today - June 1, 2013 - by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today – June 1, 2013 – by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger.  |  From left to right, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury as seen last night, May 24.  EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh captured this photo in Clarksville, Indiana.

View larger. | From left to right, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury as seen May 24, 2013. EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh captured this photo in Clarksville, Indiana.

View larger. | The two brightest objects in this photo - and in your evening sky on May 12, 2013 - appeared to be the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter.   In reality, an even brighter planet - Venus - was also up, but buried in bright twilight.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Daniel McVey.

View larger. | The two brightest objects in this photo – and in your evening sky on May 12, 2013 – appeared to be the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter. In reality, an even brighter planet – Venus – was also up, but buried in bright twilight. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Daniel McVey.

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