August is a pretty quiet time for planets, at least in the prime evening hours when most of us like to observe.
Saturn is still visible in the early evening, but it’s sinking low – catch it early in the month and early in the evening. The ring tilt is about 8.6 degrees.
Uranus and Neptune are well placed and visible all night, though they transit fairly low in the sky. Uranus should be easy, showing a distinct green disk that makes it stand out from nearby stars ... though it’s in a field that makes it rather hard to find, hidden away in Pisces away from any bright stars. Neptune is a bit harder – its pale blue-green disk needs a fair amount of magnification before it looks different from a star. It’s in Aquarius, also fairly far from bright stars, but you can start looking for it off the left horn of Capricornus. It’s at opposition on August 22.
Pluto, too, is catchable, though it’s still located right next to M24 in the heart of the Sagittarius Milky Way, where it’ll be awfully tough to tell it apart from all the other stars. But that’s just the kind of tough job that justifies being a Plutocrat!
Jupiter rises in the late evening, a bit before midnight. Will the Southern Equatorial Band be dark again? Will the Great Red Spot stand out from it, or blend in? It’s always a mystery what Jupiter will look like when it returns from a trip on the other side of the sun, so if you’re up late, get an advance look at this fall’s Jupiter showcase.
Mars is an early morning object, while Venus is too close to the sun to observe this month. Mercury makes a brief evening appearance around the beginning of the month but then goes to hide with Venus in the sun’s glare. It’s passing between us and the sun, what’s called “inferior conjunction”, so you should be able to catch a crescent Mercury if you have good horizons on the very first few days of August. But don’t delay, or you’ll lose it.
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