Our Friendly Skies

August 01, 2008|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZER / Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets:

Saturn is low in the west after sunset.

Mars is low in the west after sunset.

Jupiter appears low in the south.

Venus is visible low in the west.

This month a grouping of Mercury, Venus, and Saturn occurs. They are close to each other all month, but are low and tough to see.

Venus is the brightest of all the planets. It is called "Earth's Twin" because of its similar size and composition, but that is about all that is similar. Venus is very hot with a thick atmosphere. That reflective atmosphere is responsible for its apparent brightness as it reflects most of the sunlight that hits it. Venus is visible low in the west after sunset this month. It sets about 45 minutes to an hour after the Sun. That will improve as we head into fall.


On Aug. 5, Venus is about one degree northeast of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo the Lion. By Aug. 13, Venus approaches within one-quarter of a degree, that's half the width of a full moon, of the planet Saturn. This is the closest planetary approach for 2008.

Saturn is around +1 magnitude and is becoming harder to locate as it dives into the twilight glare.

Mercury is fairly easy to see this month, but with Mercury, "easy" is a relative term. Since it is the closest planet to the Sun, it never appears very far from it in the sky. It is bright, but always low in the twilight. It is easiest to see during mid to late August. On Aug. 15, Mercury passes within two-thirds of a degree of Saturn, and on Aug. 20 it passes within a degree of Venus.

A clear horizon should allow a view of all three this month.

Jupiter is low in the south in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. It is the brightest object in that crowded area of the Milky Way.

Use your binoculars to follow the changing positions of the four brighter satellites or moons. They were discovered by Galileo and supplied a proof for the heliocentric or Sun-centered solar system. The moons positions will change nightly. Use a small telescope to observe its cloud bands or maybe even the Great Red Spot, a storm that's been visible for hundreds of years.

Mars is not far from the Mercury, Venus and Saturn grouping this month. It is a little higher and farther south, but harder to see. At +1.7 magnitude, Mars is fainter than many of the easy to see stars.

Other solar system members include the trashy objects, namely the dirt, dust and sand that we call meteors when they burn up in our atmosphere. One of the best meteor displays is the annual Perseid shower peaking on Aug. 12 after midnight. This year is favorable with the Moon at waxing gibbous and setting before 2 a.m.

Our Sun and Moon

On Aug. 1, the Sun rises around 6:11, sets around 8:23 for 14 hours and 12 minutes of daylight. By Aug. 31, sunrise is at 6:38, sunset is around 7:43 for 13 hours and 5 minutes of daylight. As we head into fall, daylight will continue to shorten. This trend will continue until the winter solstice in December.

The Moon reaches its new phase twice in August, on the first and 30th.  A total solar eclipse will occur on Aug. 1, but not visible here.  First quarter is Aug. 8, full on Aug. 16, with a partial lunar eclipse not visible here, and last quarter on Aug. 23.

The Sun enters the zodiacal constellation Leo the Lion on Aug. 10 from Cancer the Crab.

Astronomy News

To learn more about the sky and the constellations, visit to download or listen to "Skylights." This is a seven-minute tour of the August night sky. Download it to your iPod or MP3 player, take the sky map that is with this article, and prepare to enjoy the current night sky with your guided tour by Rod Martin. the planetarium resource teacher.

News and activities about local events and activities can be obtained through the Web site of the Tristate Astronomers. Go to

Enjoy the beautiful night sky!

Stay up to date with public programs and take a tour of the night sky with "Skylights," the Brish Planetarium's monthly podcasts on and "Skylights" are made possible by Antietam Cable Television, The Herald-Mail Co. and the Washington County Public Schools Public Information Office.

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