All About Space

Month's planets

Gaseous duo Jupiter and Saturn still make a stunning pair before they dip below the horizon


This month Venus will be visible in the east before dawn, looking like a brilliant, bright, bluewhite spark in the sky, far brighter than any other planet or star in the sky at that time. Venus was already a very striking sight in mid-July, but as the mornings have passed it has become even more so, reaching its highest point in the morning sky on 8 September. Even leading up to its spectacula­r rise before dawn in September, Venus is easy pickings for early risers. On 13 August the planet reaches greatest western elongation, dazzling at magnitude -4.3.

It’s ironic that such a beautiful, serene sight is in reality such a frightenin­g and, some would say, ugly planet. Venus, the second planet out from the

Sun, is like a world invented for a science-fiction film. Its atmosphere of thick, curdled carbon dioxide would be lethally poisonous to us, and the incredible pressure on its surface would crush us too. Droplets of acid fall through its sky, but evaporate in the terrible heat long before reaching the ground. It will not be an interplane­tary holiday destinatio­n anytime soon.

On 12 August ‘Earth’s evil twin’ has reached dichotomy, a point where it is visible as a half phase through telescopes and binoculars. The phases of Venus are considered to be one of the most easy-to-spot aspects of the planet, and despite popular belief the second world from the Sun is still worthy of observatio­n as sunlight bathes the sky, especially since its sheer brilliance is tamed somewhat by a brighter backdrop. On the same morning the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak of 120 ‘shooting stars’ per hour. However, midnight is the prime time for catching them as the sky reaches optimum darkness for catching even the faintest meteors.

The best views of Venus can be had with the help of an orange, yellow or red filter, since the sky’s blue light is filtered out. Venus’ toxic atmosphere is what makes Venus shine so brightly in our sky. It’s possible to capture features in the planet’s thick atmosphere with the help of a dark blue or violet eyepiece filter through a telescope of at least ten inches or more.

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