What's Up for August. Mars and Saturn pair up at sunset, and Venus and Jupiter before dawn. Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Two planetary conjunctions are visible to the unaided eye everywhere this month. Venus will be visible alone at dawn, low on the eastern horizon for the first week of the month. Then a week later look for Jupiter just below brighter Venus. The moon joins the two planets on August 23, making a pretty triangle in the morning sky.
A dramatic close pairing of Mars and Saturn unfolds all month long. On August first through fourth, notice bright Mars in the southwest sky between fainter Saturn on one side and Spica on the other. The moon hopscotches through the three objects each night moving from the right of Spica on the first of August to the left of Saturn on the fourth. By the end of the month swift Mars is to the lower left of Saturn and the moon joins the pair on August 31.
The Milky Way of summer comes into view as the sky darkens an hour or two after sunset.
On the night of August 12 and 13 the moon is visible all night long, competing with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. But don't let that big, bright moon deter you from a fun skywatching and Perseid meteor-watching night. The brightest meteors will be easily visible despite the moonshine. The Perseids are visible at impressive rates of up to about 20 per hour for two weeks before the peak and a week afterwards. That gives weekend campers and stargazers a good opportunity to see plenty of Perseids on August weekends--through the 17th.
Aim your binoculars at the Big Dipper and then starhop to Polaris and on to the right--or East--to the nearby W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. From there keep scanning right, and you should be able to spot the Andromeda Galaxy with your binoculars in the nearby constellation Andromeda.
Jones: You can learn about how NASA studies galaxies, meteor showers and about all of NASA's missions at www.nasa.gov. That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.