Skynotes August 2014

Month Highlights

Mars and Saturn are in the north, moving towards each other in the evening sky. While Venus is in the morning sky, low to the east. By the end of the month, Mercury appears in the evening and Jupiter in the morning.

Saturn Occultation – 4th August

On the evening of the 4th, the Moon and Saturn will line up perfectly in the sky, so that for a brief time the Moon will hide Saturn from view.

It will be a First Quarter Moon and Saturn will disappear behind the dark or unlit area of the Moon and will reappear from the Moon’s bright side.

Saturn Occultation
Saturn disappears: 9:24pm
Saturn reappears: 9:52pm

This will be the third Saturn Occultation for the year. The first was in February, but occurred during daylight hours. The next was in May, when Saturn disappeared behind the Full Moon. It looked amazing through a telescope, but the bright Full Moon and light clouds made it hard to spot with the naked eye.

This time, since Saturn disappears behind the dark limb of the Moon, it should be easier to view as long as the weather cooperates. And of course, all the better if you have access to binoculars or a small telescope – Saturn is always an amazing view and it’s quite astonishing to watch the planet and its rings disappear behind the Moon.

Supermoon: what’s the story?

A beautiful Full Moon will rise on Sunday 10th and everyone should take the time to marvel at it. Some are calling it a ‘supermoon’ because this month’s Full Moon coincides with the Moon being at perigee or closest to Earth on 11th August. Yes, the Moon will be closest to us and will appear about 20% bigger than an average Full Moon. And yes, it will look amazingly large and round as it rises. But will it be any more wonderful than the other fourteen Full Moons that occur this year? In all honesty, it won’t. The difference between this supermoon and those other Full Moons is simply not large enough for us to notice. But don’t despair, just remember, every Full Moon is an awesome sight – so go out and enjoy them all.

Planetarium Events
Discover the Night Sky

The Melbourne Planetarium at Scienceworks presents its popular after-dark sessions, Thursday evenings from 31st July to 21st August at 7.30pm. All evenings include a glass of wine with cheese, the opportunity to chat to the Planetarium’s astronomer, Dr Tanya Hill, and to be immersed in a planetarium experience. You will finish the evening stargazing through telescopes (weather permitting).

Each evening will showcase a different aspect of the night sky.
Thursday 31st July: Backyard Astronomy – Discover all there is to see in the night sky.
Thursday 7th: Solar System Update – What's new with our family of planets?
Thursday 14th: Colours of the Universe – Explore a universe full of colour that only our telescopes can see.
Thursday 21st: Starlight – the premiere screening of our new planetarium show.

For more information, pricing or bookings please see the  What's On or call the Scienceworks Booking Office on 9392 4819.

Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF returns to the Planetarium to showcase the spectacle of fulldome cinema. There will be two showcases, with each one screened on the nights of the 9th and 15th August. See the What's On for details and tickets. 

Sunrise and Sunset Times
    Rise Set
Friday 1st 7:21 5:32
Monday 11th 7:10 5:41
Thursday 21st 6:58 5:49
Sunday 31st 6:44 5:58


Moon Phases
First Quarter Monday 4th
Full Moon Monday 11th
Last Quarter Sunday 17th
New Moon Tuesday 26th

The Full Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Monday 11th at a distance of 356, 896 km.

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Sunday 24th at a 406,522 km.

Let The Moon be your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky.

  • After sunset on the 2nd, the waxing crescent Moon sits below Spica (Virgo).
  • On the 3rd, the Moon is found below Mars.
  • Then on the 4th, the First Quarter Moon catches up with Saturn for a lunar occultation.
  • On the 6th the waxing gibbous Moon is near the red supergiant star Antares (Scorpius).
  • The so called ‘supermoon’ rises on the 10th.
  • The Last Quarter Moon sits above the bright star cluster Pleiades during the early hours of the 18th.
  • The Moon can be found below Aldebaran (Taurus) before sunrise on the 19th.
  • The thin waning crescent Moon is to the right of Jupiter just before sunrise on the 24th.
  • The waxing crescent Moon is above Mercury during evening twilight on the 27th.
  • After sunset on the 30th, the waxing crescent Moon sits above Spica.
  • Then on the 31st, the Moon is below Saturn and Mars.


Mercury reappears in the western sky at sunset by the end of the month. On the 27th, the thin crescent Moon sits just above Mercury.

Venus shines so brightly that it can be seen during the early morning twilight, even though it is now fairly close to the Sun. Very low to the north-eastern horizon on the 18th, Venus sits to the left of Jupiter, with just half a degree (or the width of the Full Moon) between them.

Mars and Saturn are high in the north at sunset. Mars, as always, looks lovely and red, while Saturn shines with the hint of a yellow/orange glow. The two planets have been slowly drifting towards each other over the past few months and now is the time for Mars to make its dash. After sunset around mid-month, Mars will sit directly to the left of Saturn and by the end of August Mars will be found sitting above Saturn. Checkout the Moon guide to follow the Moon’s path through the planets and of course, don’t miss the occultation of Saturn by the Moon on the 4th.

Jupiter returns to the morning sky in mid-August. It might just be possible to catch Jupiter sitting very close to Venus during early twilight on the 18th. The pair will be low to the north-east horizon.


The major meteor shower this month is the Perseids which peaks on the 13th. This is a strong Northern Hemisphere shower with around 100 meteors predicted per hour although this year it will have to contend with the Full Moon. The shower resides within the northern constellation of Perseus and it is difficult to view from the Southern Hemisphere. However, at the peak of the shower, it has been known for long-pathed Perseids to be seen here.

Perseids are fast, bright and frequently leave persistent trails. They appear to come from a point below the north-eastern horizon.

The best time to look for Perseids is from 3am onwards. This shower is associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle, which passed near the Sun in 1991.

Stars and Constellations

The two dominant constellations in the sky this month are Scorpius (the scorpion) with its hook-shaped tail and bright, red star Antares, and Sagittarius (the archer) whose bright stars resemble a teapot.

Crux, or the Southern Cross, is high in the south-west. On a clear, moonless night it may be possible to see the Coal Sack nebula, a dark region that lies between the two brightest stars of the Southern Cross, known as Alpha and Beta Crucis.

Low in the southern sky are the bright stars Achernar (to the east) and Canopus (to the west). These stars lie opposite the Southern Cross and never disappear below the horizon.

International Space Station

From Earth, the ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:

6:28am - 6:34am, Saturday 9th August.

The Station will appear in the north-west and travel right overhead, passing very close to the bright stars Rigel (Orion) and Sirius (Canis Major) before disappearing in the south-east.

Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the website:

On this Day

3rd 2004, the MESSENGER (USA) mission to Mercury was launched.

4th 2007, the Phoenix (USA) Mars lander was launched.

5th 1998, the Near Earth Object Program Office was set up by NASA to detect and catalogue asteroids that approach near to Earth.

6th 2012, the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the red planet.

7th 1959, Discoverer 1 (USA) returns the first satellite images of the Earth.

10th 1877, American astronomer Asaph Hall discovered Mars’ moon Deimos and then two days later Mars’ second moon Phobos.

19th 1960, two dogs, Belka and Strelka, were launched into space aboard Sputnik 5 (USSR), and successfully returned to Earth.

20th 1977, Voyager 2 (USA) was launched to explore the planets in the outer Solar System.

25th 1609, Galileo demonstrated the newly invented telescope.

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