Star chart for 15th August at 8.00 pm
Those nights highlighted yellow are the best for viewing stars in the evening when the moon is a thin crescent or rises late.
Information on moon phases and times of sunrise and sunset can be accessed for any time of the year from Information on the drop down menu at the top of the page.
Mercury is an evening star and reaches maximal elongation from the Sun (25°) on the 9th October, but because of the low orientation of the ecliptic in the sky, the planet is only a few degrees above the horizon and is not easily seen without a telescope.
Venus is also an evening star, but at a greater elongation from the Sun than Mercury, 47° on the 31st, it appears higher in the sky and sets an hour and a half after the Sun at the beginning of the month and two and a half hours later at the end. Venus will be passing close to the red star Antares towards the middle of the month making a beautiful double.
Mars is best seen towards the morning before twilight heralds sunrise. It can be found in the constellation of Leo close to the bright star, Regulus. On the 18th, the comet ISON (magnitude 9) will pass close by making it a perfect for telescopic observation.
Jupiter is getting very bright (magnitude -2.4) but doesn’t appear until five hours after sunset. It’s therefore best viewed towards the morning when it appears 60° above the horizon in the constellation of Gemini. Don’t miss the early morning of the 12th when the orientation of the Earth, Sun, Jupiter and its moons is perfect for viewing the shadows of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto, Europa and Io, pass over its surface, from 4.30 – 5.37 am.
Saturn appears too close to the Sun to be seen easily in the evening light but your best chance is an hour after sunset on the 7th when you may be able to locate it close to the slim crescent moon.
The conditions are perfect for the Draconids and the Taurids around the time of the new moon. Remember, it’s always best to view meteor showers after midnight. For an excellent explanation, please go to the star blog Meteor Showers.
Draconids: the maximum will extend from the 6th to the 10th October, peaking on the 8th; the rate of meteor fall is variable, you could see several hundreds an hour or none at all.
Taurids: maximum on the night of the 10th/11th with its radiant in the Hyades; the average rate is about five an hour.
Orionids: peaking on the 21st but keep an eye out over the days before since other peaks have recently been observed; unfortunately, full moon is on the 20th and the observation conditions are not ideal
The comet was discovered by two amateur astronomers from Russia, Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, on September 21, 2012. It will pass closest to the Sun in November and will brighten over the coming months (unless it breaks up). Although currently of magnitude 9, there is hope that it might become one of the brightest comets in years as it sprouts a tail on approaching the Sun.
The interest this month is that it is passing close by Mars which will make it easy to track while creating an exciting spectacle as the two move together through the constellation of Leo.
The image below is a simulation of how it might appear to the NASA Curiosity Rover on Mars as it passes close by (courtesy of Stuart Atkinson).