Every so often in this blog we feature an observing challenge. Since the summer weather’s so nice and you have a little free time after dinner, why not grab your binoculars and head out to the nearest western horizon shortly after sunset. If the air is transparent with no haze or clouds obstructing the view, tomorrow night (August 4) look for the super-thin lunar crescent sharing space with no fewer than three planets: Jupiter, Mercury and Venus.
Start watching no later than a half hour after sunset. The moon will be very low but should still be the easiest to see of the four celestial objects. Jupiter’s next in difficulty followed by Mercury and Venus. Whenever I’m digging for planets in bright twilight, I make sure to have binoculars handy. If you can spy just one of the four, you can “star-hop” from there to the other three by pointing your binoculars left or right, up or down. The map will help guide you there.
The pleasures of skywatching continue the following evening when the slightly thicker crescent will be in conjunction with Jupiter just 1° below the planet. With or without optical aide, this should be a pretty sight.
Lest we forget the other bright planets out this month, make a quarter turn to your left either evening to face south-southwest. Right in front of your eyes about one-third of the way up from the southern horizon to the zenith, Saturn and Mars light up the constellation Scorpius the scorpion. Because they’re farther from the sun in the sky, we can wait until darkness to see them. The best time to view them is from about 9:30 to 11 p.m. local time.