Western Slope Skies 8/16/13

Aug 16, 2013

As August began, all of the bright planets were visible in our western slope skies. Since all of our solar system planets orbit the sun, the visible planets change from night to night. 

As of today’s program, we have already lost Mercury from view for the rest of this month. It was visible in the early dawn for the first two weeks of the month. However, we still have Venus shining low on the evening horizon. Saturn will end the month just a little higher than Venus. Jupiter rises well after midnight, followed by Mars even later.

With twilight still brightening the western horizon, you will notice Venus shining brilliantly! It is three times brighter than any other planet or star and looks similar to airplane landing lights. Besides the sun and the moon, no other celestial object will be as bright. Venus will remain fairly low in the west, 30 minutes after sunset all month.

Saturn resides in the constellation of Virgo this month and is visible without optical aid. 45 minutes after sunset, Saturn can be found about a quarter of the way from the horizon to the overhead point, just to the upper left of Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. Saturn is about 40 times dimmer than Venus but slightly brighter than Spica. Saturn is at its best through a telescope. Even the smallest telescope will show the rings, now highly tilted to our line of sight. With a little patience and a steady atmosphere you can even see Saturn’s shadow cast upon the rings.

Jupiter is our brightest morning planet and lies in the constellation of Gemini. It is less than half as bright as Venus. By the 31st it rises around two AM. In the coming months, Jupiter, the king of planets, will rule the night. Telescope views easily show its cloud structure and four of its moons.

Much dimmer Mars crosses from Gemini into Cancer at the end of the month and isn’t as bright as some of the brighter stars in our night sky.