Two planets appear in the August evening sky all month long: Venus and Saturn. Venus beams in the west at dusk, and sets roughly one and one-half hours aftersunset all month long at mid-northern latitudes. Saturn shines in the southwest sky at nightfall and stays out until late evening in early August and until mid-evening by the month’s end.
Mars and Jupiter rise in the east before dawn all through August. The two climb over the horizon well over two hours before sunrise in early August. By the month’s end, Jupiter rises more than 4 hours before the sun while Mars comes up about three hours before sunrise. No, Mars will not appear as large as the moon on August 27. This is a hoax that has popped up every year at this time since 2003. Read more about the Mars-double-moon hoax here.
Special planetary events coming up in August 2013:
Evening planets in August
Morning planets in August
Venus (dusk to nightfall) Venus, the brightest planet, will remain in the evening sky for the rest of 2013. It’s fairly low in the western twilight this month, so an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset is best for observing Venus at dusk and early evening. Venus, whose cloud cover is very reflective of sunlight, ranks as the third-brightest celestial luminary after the sun and moon! The planet of love. How can anyone not enjoy Venus when it’s in the evening sky? Watch for the waxing crescent moon to pass close to Venus in the western dusk on August 9 and August 10.
Saturn (dusk until late evening) Saturn is no match for Venus in brightness, but it’s still as brilliant as the brightest stars. It shines like a gentle beacon in the August 2013 nighttime sky. Earth flew between the sun and Saturn on April 28, so Saturn is still out for much of the night this month. Saturn lodges at its highest point for the night at nightfall. From mid-northern latitudes, Saturn is found in the southwest sky after sunset.
Just as it did last year, Saturn is still shining relatively close to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. You can distinguish Saturn from Spica by color. Saturn shines with agolden hue while Spica sparkles blue-white. Binoculars help to accentuate color if you have difficulty discerning the difference with the unaided eye.
Binoculars won’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, but a small telescope will. The rings are inclined by more than 17from edge-on in August 2013, showing us their north face. The rings will open most widely in October 2017, displaying a maximum inclination of 27 . As with so much in space, 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 27 by May 2032.
If you have access to a telescope, you can also seek Saturn’s moons. Saturn’s largest and brightest moon Titan is fairly easy to observe in a small telescope.
Saturn will remain in fine view in the evening sky until September or early October 2013.
Jupiter (predawn and dawn sky) The king planet Jupiter will be easy to see before dawn all this month. It will rise about two and one-half hours before sunrise in early August, but rise a whopping four and one-half hours before the sun by the month’s end. Watch for the moon to swing close to Jupiter on the morning of August 3 and once again on August 31.
Keep your eye on Jupiter, as this brilliant beauty will help you to find the fainter Mars and Mercury (in early August). Jupiter – the fourth brightest celestial object after the sun, moon and Venus – is by far the most brilliant star-like object in the August 2013 morning sky.
Want to know more about Mars and Mercury in August 2013? Read on.
Mars (predawn and dawn sky) Mars becomes a bit easier to spot before sunrise in August, as it climbs a higher into the predawn sky all month long. Keep in mind that Jupiter shines many times more brilliantly than Mars does, so you may want to use Jupiter (and possibly binoculars) to locate and spot Mars. Use the moon and Jupiter to find Mars (and Mercury) on the mornings of August 2, August 3, August 4 and August 5.
As the innermost planet, Mercury comes and goes in our sky rapidly. It’ll continue its morning apparition in the first half of August, but will swing back to the evening sky by late August.
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: In August 2013, two of the five visible planets – Venus and Saturn – can be found first thing at nightfall. The waning crescent moon swings the morning planets – Jupiter, Mars and Mercury – in early August. Info and charts here.