The Stars and Planets in the Night Sky This Month

Saturn continues to provide the most spectacular sight through a telescope in August 2011.  Look for the beautiful, ringed planet in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo this month.  Saturn will appear above the W-SW horizon around sunset, and will set not long after sunset.  (For those of you in the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn in the W-NW horizon around sunset.)

Jupiter appears in the predawn, eastern sky: It will be the brightest astronomical object you see toward the eastern horizon (other than the moon and the sun!). Currently, it resides in the Name A Star Live constellation Aries.

Mars rises shortly before sunrise over the eastern horizon. Mars is in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus in early August, but moves into the constellation Gemini later in the month.

Mercury will be between the Earth and the Sun for much of August, but you may get a glimpse of this elusive planet toward month’s end in the eastern, predawn sky.

Venus will be behind the Sun for much of the month, and will appear again in the evening sky in October.

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible. If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that in August would be during the first few days, and during the last 1 1/2 weeks of the month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

Get a rare look at Mercury — Venus too!

April 2010 is a particularly good time to see the planet Mercury.  Mercury is the innermost planet to the sun, and is thus difficult to observe.  But you can get a good look at Mercury in early April this year, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

Look toward the west at sunset (being careful not to look at the sun!).  You should see two bright points of light above the western horizon.  The object on top is the planet Venus, and the object beneath that is the planet Mercury.   Both planets are in the constellation Aries, which is a Name A Star Live constellation.  So if you have a star in Aries, then if you find Venus and Mercury, you know your star is nearby!

Venus and Jupiter at Sunset
Venus and Jupiter shortly after sunset, June 2002. Credit: NASA

Mercury and Venus will appear closest together on the evenings of April 3 and 4.  Again, the best views will be from the northern hemisphere of Earth.  If you live in the southern hemisphere, then the two planets will appear so close to the western horizon at sunset that you may not get a good view.  (Again, don’t look at the sun!)

If you observe the two planets through a telescope. you’ll notice that Venus looks like a bright, almost-full circle, while Mercury looks like a semi-circle — or even a crescent shape.  This is because Mercury is so very close to the sun that we never really see the full face of the planet.

Don’t wait!  Your best views of Venus and Mercury will be in the first week to 10 days of April.