The Solar System in August 2014
All dates and times are NZST (UT +12 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.
The Sun rises at 7.26 am and sets at 5.28 pm on August 1. On August 31 the times are 6.46 am and 5.57 pm respectively.
Phases of the Moon (times as shown by guide)
First quarter: August 4 at 12.50 pm ( 00:50 UT) Full moon: August 11 at 6.10 am (Aug 10, 18:10 UT) Last quarter August 18 at 12.26 am (Aug 17, 12:26 UT) New moon: August 26 at 2.13 am (Aug 25, 14:13 UT)
The Planets in August
A conjunction of Mars and Saturn on August 25 and 26 is the best planetary conjunction of the year. Mercury becomes visible in the evening sky by the end of August. Jupiter emerges from the Sun in the morning while Venus gets lower in the dawn sky.
The two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta have been a close pair this year. They begin to separate during August.
MERCURY starts August as a morning object, but rises only 17 minutes before the Sun on the 1st, so is not observable. The planet is at superior conjunction at the far side of the Sun on the morning of August 9 when it will pass less than 2° north of the Sun.
Superior conjunction sees Mercury return to the evening sky. It will continue to be too close to the Sun to see at first, but by the end of August the planet will set more than 90 minutes after the Sun and so be visible in the evening sky. On the 31st, half an hour after sunset, Mercury will be 11° above the horizon in a direction just north of west. At magnitude -0.3 it will be easily the brightest star like object to the west and so the first to appear as the Sun's glow diminishes.
VENUS is in the dawn sky all month. It rises some 75 minutes before the Sun on the 1st, but only half an hour earlier on the 31st. So by then ot will be a very low object to the ENE just before the Sun comes up. Jupiter will be rather higher and to its upper left.
Venus and Jupiter are at a close conjunction on the mornings of the 18th and 19th of August, when they will about half a degree apart, slightly further on the 19th. Their low altitude, only 6° a few minutes before sunrise, will make the conjunction difficult to see, but the planets are likely to be visible in binoculars. Look for the two planets very low about 30° round to the north of east a little before sunrise.
MARS and SATURN get close in August. Mars moves further east, away from Spica, during August to join Saturn in Libra. The two planets are closest on the 25th and 26th, when they will be 3.4° apart. They will both be at magnitude 0.6. Alpha Lib will be close forming the third corner of a small triangle with the planets. Alpha is fainter than the planets by 2 magnitudes. From the point of view of visibility this is the best planetary conjunction for 2014, but not the closest.
Beta Lib slightly brighter than alpha, will be the opposite side of Saturn to Mars, and about twice as far away. Antares will be some 22° above the two planets.
Earlier in August the moon passes first Mars and then Saturn. In both cases the moon will be closest to the planets late evening. On the 3rd the 43% lit moon will be 2.7° from Mars at 11 pm. On the 4th the moon will get much closer to Saturn, the 54% lit moon being 35' from Saturn as seen from Wellington. Further north the two will appear even closer, until from Kaitaia northwards there will be an occultation. This will occur close to midnight. A grazing occultation is visible in a band from just south of Kaitaia north to Motutangi. In this band only part of Saturn will be hidden by the moon. Further north the planet will disappear completely for up to a few minutes.
The occultation is earlier visible from all parts of mainland Australia except the extreme south point of Victoria where a graze occurs. The Occultation misses Tasmania.
The two asteroids Ceres and Vesta continue to be near Mars all month. During the second half of August they will be about 7° from the planet.
JUPITER will be in the dawn sky. It starts August even closer to the Sun than Mercury and is not likely to then be visible. The two planets are in conjunction on the morning of the 3rd when they will be just under a degree apart, but only 6.5° from the Sun.
After this, Jupiter will steadily move further away from the Sun. On the morning of the 18th it will pass Venus at a distance of just under half a degree. The following morning the two will be just over half a degree apart. The two planets will then be some 18° from the Sun, so the conjunction may be visible in binoculars shortly before sunrise.
For the rest of the month Jupiter continues to move away from the Sun. By the 31st it will rise over an hour before the Sun. Half an hour before sunrise it will be some 6° above the horizon, in a direction 30° round to the north from east.
URANUS rises just before 11 pm on August 1st and two hours earlier on the 31st. The planet is in Pisces with a magnitude 5.7.
NEPTUNE rises at 7.37 pm on the 1st and 5.35 pm on the 31st. It is in Aquarius and at opposition on the 29th at magnitude 7.8. At opposition it will be 29 AU, 4333 million km, from the Earth.
PLUTO is in Sagittarius at magnitude 14.3, 2.5° from the magnitude 3.5 star xi2 Sgr.
(1) Ceres and (4) Vesta are in Virgo at the beginning of August at magnitudes 8.8 and 7.5 respectively. By the end of August they will both have moved into Libra, and have magnitudes 9.0 and 7.7.
During the month Ceres and Vesta will separate a little, so that by the end of August they will be nearly 5° apart.
On the 31st the 29% lit moon will be 1.5° left of Vesta and 4° above Ceres late evening. All 3 will be a few degrees below Mars and Saturn
The follwing table lists various solar system object events during August. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.
|August 2||Spica 2.2 degrees south of the Moon
Mercury 0.9 degrees north of Jupiter
|August 3||Mars 2.1 degrees south of the Moon|
|August 4||Moon first quarter
Saturn 0.1 degrees north of the Moon Occn
|August 7||Moon southern most declination (-18.8 degrees)|
|August 8||Pluto 2.4 degrees south of the Moon
Mercury superior conjunction
|August 10||Moon full
Moon at perigee
|August 11||Neptune 4.3 degrees south of the Moon|
|August 14||Uranus 1.2 degrees south of the Moon Occn|
|August 15||Mercury 1.2 degrees north of Regulus|
|August 17||Moon last quarter|
|August 18||Venus 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter
Aldebaran 1.6 degrees south of the Moon
|August 19||Moon northern most declination (18.7 degrees)|
|August 23||Jupiter 5.3 degrees north of the Moon|
|August 24||Venus 5.5 degrees north of the Moon
Moon at apogee
|August 25||Regulus 4.4 degrees north of the Moon
Mars 3.4 degrees south of Saturn
|August 27||Mercury 3.3 degrees north of the Moon|
|August 29||Neptune at opposition
Spica 2.4 degrees south of the Moon
|August 31||Saturn 0.3 degrees south of the Moon Occn|
- apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
- declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
- perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
- superior conjunction: Conjunction where the Sun is between the Earth another solar system object