(Posted 24 August 2014) Planet spotting doesn’t get any easier at present with three planets (Mercury, Mars and Saturn) now visible in evening sky. Mars and Saturn are the highest in the sky and don’t set until late evening. Mars sets the latest just after 11 pm AEST on the Gold Coast (setting times for other locations can be found here on this website). All three planets look like stars without a telescope to the unaided eye.
Mercury will be the trickiest of the three to locate as it is only beginning to move into the evening sky and away from the Sun. If you have a clear Western horizon, try looking for Mercury this Wednesday (27 August 2014) when a very slim crescent Moon will be next to it (see above chart). Binoculars will help. If you don’t have any luck or have cloudy skies, don’t despair! Mercury is going to get easier to see over the next few weeks as it continues to move away from the Sun. It will be at maximum elongation on 22 September 2014 (and at it’s easiest to locate in the evening sky for the year),
If you are still scratching your head over how to use these charts to find the three planets, remember that the Moon will move past them repeatedly on its ‘moonthly’ cycle. Next Monday (1 September 2014), the crescent Moon will form a temporary triangle with Mars and Saturn (see above chart). And yes, those two stars really are Mars and Saturn. Mars is disappointing through even a large amateur telescope but a small telescope will show the rings of Saturn.