Our Friendly Skies - August 2009

July 29, 2009|By ROD MARTIN / Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER / Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Saturn is low in the west.

Jupiter is visible all night.

Visible morning planets

Venus is very bright in the east before sunrise.

Jupiter is visible all night.

Mars is higher than Venus.

For more information about the visible evening planets and nighttime sky, download the planetarium's podcast "Skylights" from

Solar System

The "King of the Planets" becomes the "King of the Night" this month. Jupiter reaches opposition Aug. 14. That is the time that it is directly on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. This is when it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. This bright, giant planet is visible all night.

This is the best time to try to see the features of Jupiter. A pair of binoculars will reveal its four larger moons. These are the moons that Galileo observed and helped prove Copernicus's idea of the sun-centered solar system. Watching them from night to night will show how they revolve around the planet. A small telescope might also show the equatorial cloud belts.


Saturn is dipping toward the western horizon, setting about an hour after the sun. Details and its rings will not be easy to see. The twilight glow and the narrowing rings make good observations almost impossible.

Mars is climbing higher in the morning sky as it moves from Taurus into Gemini. It is getting slightly brighter. Look for the red "star" above the winter constellations. What a terrible thought - winter constellations in August.

Venus is the brightest morning planet at -4 magnitude. It is now dropping toward the sun, but is actually becoming easy to see very well since geometry makes it stand at a higher angle.

Sun and moon

On Aug. 1, the sun rises at 6:13 a.m. and sets at 8:21 p.m., for 14 hours and 8 minutes of daylight. By Aug. 31, the sun rises at 6:38 a.m. and sets at 7:43 p.m., for 13 hours and 5 minutes of daylight.

The sun enters the astronomical boundaries of Leo from Cancer on Aug. 10.

The moon reaches full Aug. 5, last quarter Aug. 13, new Aug. 20 and first quarter Aug. 27.

Brish Planetarium and events

This is the International Year of Astronomy. Four hundred years ago, Galileo first pointed his telescope toward the sky and revolutionized astronomy. His observations helped provide the proofs that the Earth revolved around the Sun instead of the other way.

The Tristate Astronomers are active and hold many events to share their hobby. For more information about schedules and special events, go to

The planetarium is closed for the summer. Programs will resume in October with "Planets."

The planetarium is at the Central Offices of Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown. The planetarium's Web site is

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