Mercury starts the month heading towards superior conjunction which it reaches on August 8th. The planet is located on the far side of the Sun and remains unobservable from northern temperate latitudes throughout the month. Observers located at equatorial and southern hemisphere latitudes will be able to spot Mercury during the last week of August when it becomes visible as an evening object, low down above the western horizon just after sunset.
For example on August 23rd, Mercury shines at magnitude -0.6 and from latitude 35S (approx. equal to Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago) it will appear 7 degrees above the western horizon, 30 minutes after sunset. On the last day of the month it will have dimmed slightly to magnitude -0.3 but on the other hand 12 degrees above the same horizon.
For many months now Venus has been a superb dazzling morning object before sunrise. The planet remains visible towards the northeast during August but by months end rises just one hour before the Sun. At magnitude -3.9, Venus is unmistakable, a blazing beacon of light above the horizon.
On August 18, Venus passes only 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter (mag. -1.8). The pairing forms a wonderful sight in the pre-dawn sky for a few days before and after this. The brightness difference is noticeable, Venus appears about five times brighter than the much larger but more distant Jupiter. On August 23rd, the thin waning crescent Moon passes about 5 degrees south of Venus and Jupiter.
Mars remains an evening object this month as it continues its rapid south-easterly motion against the "fixed" background stars. At the start of the month the "Red planet" is located in Virgo, 8 degrees southeast of the constellation brightest star Spica (α Vir - mag. +1.0). On August 10th, Mars moves into Libra where it remains for the remainder of the month. Also currently located in Libra is Saturn and Mars will catch up and overtake the "Ringed planet" on August 27th. Both planets have the same brightness (mag. +0.6) but the colour contrast is striking - Mars a deep orange-red and Saturn an off white almost creamish colour.
As the month progresses, Mars fades slightly from magnitude +0.4 to +0.6 with its apparent size shrinking from 7.9 to 6.8 arc seconds. The planet sets about 2 hours after the Sun from northern temperate latitudes but from Southern Hemisphere latitudes it's visible for twice as long. On August 3rd, the first quarter Moon passes 2.2 degrees north of Mars.
Jupiter, magnitude -1.8, passed through solar conjunction at the end of last month. From about the middle of August it will reappear above the eastern horizon in the early morning sky, rising a few minutes earlier each subsequent day. The planet is currently located in the constellation of Cancer with an apparent size of about 32 arc seconds. From northern temperate latitudes, Jupiter rises more than 2.5 hours before the Sun, although considerably less from more southerly locations.
Although, the largest planet of our solar system is probably too low above the east-northeastern horizon for serious telescopic observation this month, it's still an impressive naked eye sight. As mentioned above, Venus passes only 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter on August 18th.
Saturn is now again moving direct amongst the stars of Libra. The planet reached its second stationary point last month signaling the end of this year's opposition period. However, Saturn remains reasonably well placed for observation during August. By months end it sets about 2 hours after the Sun from northern temp latitudes and rather later from locations further south.
The planets brightness dims slightly from mag +0.5 to +0.6 as the month progresses with its apparent size reducing from 17.1 to 16.3 arc seconds. As already mentioned Mars is currently in the same area of sky and on August 27th, it will overtake and pass 4 degrees south of Saturn.
The first quarter Moon will passes 0.1 degrees south of Saturn on August 4th with an occultation visible from New Zealand and most of Australia (10:32 UT). Later in the month on August 31st, the waxing crescent Moon passes 0.4 degrees north of Saturn with an occultation visible from West Africa (18:59 UT).
Uranus is an evening object, shining at magnitude +5.8 amongst the stars of Pisces. At the start of the month, the distant planet rises in the east before midnight and a little earlier each day as the month progresses. It then remains visible for the remainder of the night.
Uranus is positioned 15 degrees south, 20 degrees east of the centre of the "Great Square of Pegasus" and 2 degrees south of star ε Psc (mag. +4.3). The planet is bright enough to be easily spotted with binoculars or a small telescope. It's also visible to the naked eye but this is a challenging task, requiring dark skies.
A small telescope at high magnification will show the planet as a small green disk, obviously non-stellar (apparent diameter 3.6 arc seconds). However, even when viewed through the largest amateur scopes it's difficult to make out any surface details.
On August 14th, the waning gibbous Moon passes 1.2 degrees north of Uranus.
Neptune (mag. +7.8), the most distant planet in the Solar System reaches opposition in Aquarius on August 29th and hence is visible all night long. At opposition the planet is positioned 28.963 AU (4333 million km or 2692 million miles) from Earth.
With a declination of almost -10 degrees, Neptune is currently better situated for observation for observers located in either the tropics or Southern Hemisphere than for those in the Northern Hemisphere.
The planet is located a couple of degrees northeast of Sigma (σ) Aqr (mag. +4.8) and about 30 degrees southwest of the Great Square of Pegasus. Although Neptune is a considerably sized planet it's too distant and hence too faint to be seen with the naked eye. However, it's visible with binoculars. A small to medium sized telescope at high magnifications will show the planet as a small bluish disk, although the surface appears devoid of details.
On August 12th, the full Moon passes 5 degrees north of Neptune.
Solar System Data Table August 2014
|Date||Right Ascension||Declination||Apparent Magnitude||Apparent Size||Illum. (%)||Distance from Earth (AU)||Constellation|
|Sun||5th Aug 2014||08h 59m 08.8s||17d 06m 08.2s||-26.7||31.5'||100||1.014||Cancer|
|Sun||15th Aug 2014||09h 37m 06.9s||14d 12m 12.9s||-26.7||31.6'||100||1.013||Leo|
|Sun||25th Aug 2014||10h 14m 12.9s||10d 55m 39.3s||-26.7||31.6'||100||1.011||Leo|
|Mercury||5th Aug 2014||08h 44m 14.7s||19d 42m 28.1s||-1.9||05.1"||98||1.321||Cancer|
|Mercury||15th Aug 2014||10h 04m 51.2s||13d 34m 53.5s||-1.3||05.0"||97||1.356||Leo|
|Mercury||25th Aug 2014||11h 12m 00.8s||06d 07m 47.4s||-0.5||05.1"||89||1.308||Leo|
|Venus||5th Aug 2014||07h 30m 24.3s||21d 54m 13.8s||-3.8||10.7"||93||1.562||Gemini|
|Venus||15th Aug 2014||08h 22m 02.0s||19d 57m 39.5s||-3.8||10.4"||95||1.599||Cancer|
|Venus||25th Aug 2014||09h 12m 20.9s||17d 03m 48.1s||-3.9||10.2"||96||1.632||Cancer|
|Mars||5th Aug 2014||14h 09m 59.0s||-14d 15m 10.9s||0.4||07.7"||87||1.214||Virgo|
|Mars||15th Aug 2014||14h 32m 23.7s||-16d 13m 53.7s||0.5||07.3"||87||1.275||Libra|
|Mars||25th Aug 2014||14h 56m 27.7s||-18d 08m 20.7s||0.6||07.0"||87||1.334||Libra|
|Jupiter||5th Aug 2014||08h 26m 17.4s||19d 37m 15.0s||-1.8||31.4"||100||6.273||Cancer|
|Jupiter||15th Aug 2014||08h 35m 19.8s||19d 06m 11.7s||-1.8||31.6"||100||6.243||Cancer|
|Jupiter||25th Aug 2014||08h 44m 08.6s||18d 34m 16.5s||-1.8||31.8"||100||6.193||Cancer|
|Saturn||5th Aug 2014||14h 59m 14.1s||-14d 41m 24.5s||0.5||17.0"||100||9.798||Libra|
|Saturn||15th Aug 2014||15h 00m 28.4s||-14d 49m 21.2s||0.6||16.7"||100||9.964||Libra|
|Saturn||25th Aug 2014||15h 02m 19.0s||-14d 59m 41.8s||0.6||16.4"||100||10.128||Libra|
|Uranus||5th Aug 2014||01h 00m 50.7s||05d 44m 44.1s||5.8||03.6"||100||19.551||Pisces|
|Uranus||15th Aug 2014||01h 00m 17.7s||05d 41m 02.6s||5.8||03.6"||100||19.408||Pisces|
|Uranus||25th Aug 2014||00h 59m 28.8s||05d 35m 43.9s||5.8||03.7"||100||19.281||Pisces|
|Neptune||5th Aug 2014||22h 34m 35.2s||-09d 46m 20.2s||7.8||02.4"||100||29.046||Aquarius|
|Neptune||15th Aug 2014||22h 33m 37.9s||-09d 52m 10.0s||7.8||02.4"||100||28.991||Aquarius|
|Neptune||25th Aug 2014||22h 32m 37.0s||-09d 58m 16.8s||7.8||02.4"||100||28.965||Aquarius|