Heads UP! for August Planets hiding in plain sight….

….if you find a clear view of your horizons.

The open habitats at the Bronx Zoo are wonderful, but my Dad points out that they seem to provide the magnificent animals with better places to hide just out of sight of their visitors. So it is with our bright planets this month, as they are a little harder to find.

Let’s start with Saturn! Even using just one eye through your telescope eyepiece, Saturn is still magnificently 3D. Saturn is in the southwestern sky after sunset, getting lower all month. Perhaps Saturn heard that Venus has a good hiding place, in plain sight, bright as all get out, low in the west. Venus usually puts some distance between itself and the Sun and the horizon on each side trip out from the Sun. But not this time. For the next few months Venus gets further from the Sun, but stays low in the west.

While Venus and Saturn wonder where everybody went, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury are out playing in the dawn sky. Catch all three while you can. Jupiter stands out, rising almost one-third of the way above the eastern horizon at dawn by the end of the month. Mars tries to tag along, but can’t keep up with the King. Jupiter stands out telescopically, as well, appearing ten times larger than Mars.

Mercury completes the lovely scene – if you get up before the 6 to 6:30am sunrise in August. Mercury is lower, but brighter than Mars and diving for cover. The innermost planet brightens like a falling firework as it falls fast back into the solar glare by mid-month.

The Moon starts out August shrinking to a crescent. At mid-month, the Moon will ride low in the evening sky, swelling in size, drowning the Teapot and Scorpion’s star clouds. So early and late in the month is the best time to see the subtle and wonderful deep sky objects out there in the direction of the center of the Milky Way.

The favorite summer meteor shower, the Perseids, peaks during daylight on the 12th, making the mornings of the 12th and 13th good times for viewing. Typically, the mornings are better for meteors as the Earth goes ‘head-first’ into the swarm after midnight. But you may get a few bright meteors before midnight. The Perseids are crumbs left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. You can also listen for meteors – on your FM radio! A car radio with a good antenna can do as well as a portable radio. Tune the radio to an empty frequency, and listen for the sound of a distant radio station’s signal to fade in and out as a meteor ionizes the atmosphere and refracts the signal from over the horizon. If you haven’t heard this before, listen at http://spaceweather.com/glossary/nasameteorradar.html .

The International Space Station is visible in the mornings early this month and the evenings starting August 3rd.

The Moon is close to Jupiter on the 3rd, 4th and 31st, Mars on the 4th, Mercury on the 5th and Venus on the 9th, and the bright star Spica on the 12th. Saturn gets the Moon’s attention on the 12th and the 13th.

Your take-home test for August – which planet is closest to Earth this month?

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