5 Sky Events This Week: Planets Pair and Perseids Play

A bright Perseid meteor streaked down over buildings at the Stellafane amateur astronomy convention in Springfield, Vermont, on August 7, 2010. While the moon this year will mask the fainter meteors, sky-watchers this week should still see the brighter ones. Credit: Sky & Telescope/Dennis di Cicco

Although the moon may challenge sky-watchers’ views of shooting stars, it will join the seventh planet from the sun while bright worlds appear to pair together in the heavens.

Mars and Saturn. After dusk on Monday, August 11, look for orange-hued Mars to be sitting to the far west of the yellowish ringed planet. The cosmic pair will appear separated by some 8 degrees—a little wider than the width of your fist at arm’s length—in the low southwest at dusk.

But this sky show will only get better, so keep an eye on the red planet as it closes ranks with Saturn in the coming weeks.

This sky chart shows the both Saturn and Mars as they appear on August 11, 2014 hanging in the low southwest sky at dusk.  Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows Saturn and Mars as they appear on August 11, 2014, hanging in the low southwest sky at dusk. Credit: SkySafari

Perseids peak. The iconic August meteor shower peaks late Tuesday, August 12, and into the pre-dawn hours of August 13. With the bright glare of the recent supermoon blocking out all but the brightest meteors, sky-watchers should expect a somewhat muted sky show, compared with other years.

But in a dark location away from city lights, with your back turned to the moon, you can expect to see at least one shooting star every few minutes.  Check out our Perseids viewer’s guide here.

Moon and Uranus. After nightfall on Thursday, August 14, the waning gibbous moon will appear to park itself near the planet Uranus. For sky-watchers in the Eastern Hemisphere, the pair will be separated by about 1 degree—equal to the width of your small finger held at arm’s length.

This sky chart shows the view the moon and Uranus from New Delhi, India on August 14, 2014 rising in the east at around 10 pm local time. Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows what the moon and Uranus will look like from New Delhi, India, on August 14, 2014, when they rise in the east around 10 p.m. local time. Credit: SkySafari

While the green giant is technically a naked-eye planet from very dark skies at magnitude 5.8, using binoculars or a small telescope will be your best bet for spotting it. Look for a tiny blue-green disk to the upper right of the moon.

Sitting at 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion kilometers) away, Uranus is so far away that the sunlight bouncing off its clouds takes 161 minutes to travel to Earth for us to see it.

Venus and Jupiter. If you thought Mars and Saturn make a pretty pair, then check out Venus and Jupiter on Saturday, August 16. You can’t miss this brilliant pair of early morning beacons rising low in the southeast at dawn.

The two most brilliant planets in the sky are heading for their closest encounter on Monday, August 18, but why wait until then to catch sight of them?

While the two planets may appear close, it’s amazing to think that Venus lies 13 light-minutes away, while the king of all planets sits a whopping 52 light-minutes from Earth.

This sky chart shows Venus and Jupiter close together in the southeast skies at dawn on August 16, 2014.  Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows Venus and Jupiter close together in the southeastern skies at dawn on August 16, 2014. Credit: SkySafari

Vega at zenith. For sky-watchers in the mid-northern latitudes, the bright summer star Vega will appear straight overhead (at zenith) on Sunday, August 16, around 10 to 11 p.m. local time.

Steely blue-white Vega is 25 light-years from Earth and is one of the brightest stars in the entire sky. It marks one of the corners of the Summer Triangle, made up of the stars Vega, Altair, and Deneb.

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Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.