The Shallow Sky

Akkana Peck

August, alas, is a relatively quiet month for planet watchers. Mars is still up in the early evening, but it's dim and small compared to its opposition glory. Determined Mars observers should still be able to make out some detail, though, and it should appear very noticeably gibbous. It reaches quadrature on August 7th.

Uranus and Neptune are close together in Capricornus, and August is a good time to track them down. Uranus, at magnitude 5.7, reaches opposition on the 7th and is just barely visible with the naked eye, fairly easy in binoculars. In a small telescope it shows a noticeably green disk. Neptune, which passed opposition late last month, is a slightly more difficult target at magnitude 7.8, but its small blue disk is still within easy reach of small telescopes.

Pluto is high in the sky, in Ophiuchus. This is a good time to try to find the farthest planet from the sun. Use a good chart - the one in the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's "Observer's Handbook" is very reliable - along with reasonable aperture and dark skies to identify the elusive 13.8th magnitude planet. Following Pluto over successive days to track how much it moves against the background stars; even this far-away planet moves enough in one night that its motion should be obvious to the telescopic observer.

The August planet lineup is better for early morning risers. Jupiter and Saturn are both visible in the predawn hours, and should show a wealth of detail to the telescope user, with Saturn showing its maximum ring tilt for the year, 21 degrees, late this month; binocular users can follow the dance of Jupiter's moons. Mercury also moves into the dawn sky in early August, followed, at the end of the month, by the brilliant Venus.

Akkana Peck; last updated: October 03, 2007 Prev Next