Planets

Public Domain (CC0)

A clear evening in late August offers much to contemplate, both near, relatively speaking astronomically, and far.

NASA/JPL (Public Domain)

The planet Mercury is the closest planet to our Sun.  Its average distance from the Sun is only 35 million miles. Mercury has the fastest orbital speed in the Solar System…88 days.  Perhaps this is why the planet is named after the speedy messenger to the Roman gods!

If you rise early on these crisp October mornings, you may see an eye-catching planetary sight in our pre-dawn sky. 

NAOJ, JAXA, NASA, Lockheed Martin

What is that brilliant light in the sky? If you are an early riser you may see a jewel in the east. Called the “morning star” as well as the “evening star” by cultures the world over, this light flickers a bit less than stars. It is not a star but the planet Venus. Had you looked about a month ago, Venus would have been the “evening star,” ripe for viewing by night owls. This planet is often referred to as our “sister” planet.

Planetary Conjunctions

Late August will be a great time for planet watching, in the morning and the evening. If you are up early on Monday, August 18, you will be rewarded by a spectacular pre-dawn sight. 

As August began, all of the bright planets were visible in our western slope skies. Since all of our solar system planets orbit the sun, the visible planets change from night to night. 

As of today’s program, we have already lost Mercury from view for the rest of this month. It was visible in the early dawn for the first two weeks of the month. However, we still have Venus shining low on the evening horizon. Saturn will end the month just a little higher than Venus. Jupiter rises well after midnight, followed by Mars even later.