Look Up: A Stargazer’s Guide to the August Night Sky (2018)
There are so many wonderful celestial events happening in the August night sky, including the best meteor shower of the year, a full Moon and planetary lineups. Take a look!
All times listed in Eastern Time, and based on viewing from the Northern Hemisphere:
August 4—Last Quarter Moon at 2:18 p.m. In this phase, the Moon appears as a half Moon: one-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is decreasing, heading toward the New Moon (invisible) phase.
August 6—Look to the east before dawn to see the waning crescent Moon near Aldebaran, the reddish star that is the “eye” of the Bull in the constellation Taurus.
August 10—The Moon will be at perigee at 2:00 p.m., meaning it’s at its closest point to the Earth in its monthly orbit. An easy way to remember: Apogee has an “A” = Away, so Perigee = closest.
August 11—The Dog Days of Summer come to an end. Beginning on (or about) August 11th, Sirius comes above the east-southeast horizon just far enough ahead of the Sun to be visible against the bright morning twilight. In the days that follow, Sirius rises a little earlier and gets a little higher in the sky with each passing morning. Although we have come to say that the Dog Days end with the first appearance of Sirius, actually seeing it strongly depends on your location and clarity of the sky.
August 11—New Moon at 5:58 a.m. At this stage, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye. This New Moon (also a “supermoon”) brings in a partial solar eclipse in the daytime in the Arctic, far-northeastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and most of Asia for about 3.5 hours. Read more about this eclipse here!
August 11-13—The Perseid Meteor Shower peaks. August is often regarded as “meteor month” with the appearance of one of the best displays of shooting stars of the year. These showers are named for the constellation Perseus (hence “the Perseids”), where they appear to emanate from, but are bits and pieces of the Comet Swift-Tuttle which visited the inner part of the Solar System in 1992. These meteors, no bigger than grains of sand or pebbles with the consistency of cigar ash, enter the Earth’s atmosphere about 80 miles above its surface. This year’s display is expected to be one of the best because the Moon will be gone from the night sky. Read more about this year’s shower.
Where to look: Anywhere!
What you can expect: 50 – 100 meteors per hour.
August 13—Look to the western horizon after sunset to see the thin crescent Moon with Venus. But better catch them before they dip below the horizon at nightfall!
August 14—You have a chance to spot Venus with the Moon! Look to the east, one hour before sunrise.
August 14-16 — After sunset both Venus and Jupiter can be seen alongside the waxing crescent Moon. Because it’s moving east, throughout these nights the Moon will move closer to Jupiter as its path takes it away from Venus.
August 18—First Quarter Moon at 3:48 a.m. In this phase, the Moon looks like a half-Moon — one-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is increasing, on its way to full.
August 19—Mercury is no longer in retrograde, instead goes direct at 12:25 a.m.
August 20—As darkness falls, look for Saturn well to the lower left of a 75% illuminated gibbous Moon. Saturn can be easily located by going out in late twilight and looking south-southeast at the beginning of August, or due south around month’s end. Saturn is the bright “star” roughly a third of the way up in the sky; the farther south you are the higher it will be. Later in the evening, Saturn swings low to the southwest. Below Saturn is the Teapot in Sagittarius. The pot starts August upright during twilight, then gradually tilts as if pouring in the following hours and weeks.
August 22—A wide gibbous Moon can be found sailing far above Mars, which dominates the sky east of Saturn. Fresh from last month’s opposition and close approach to Earth, Mars is still very bright and fiery. But it fades noticeably during August, from magnitude -2.8 to -2.1, while its disk in a telescope shrinks in apparent size by about 15%. Earth is fleeing ahead of Mars around the Sun and is now leaving the Red Planet behind. The planet is highest when due south, which corresponds to around 12:30 a.m. at the beginning of the month; two hours earlier at the end.
August 23 – The Moon is at apogee at 7:11 a.m., meaning it’s farthest away from Earth in its orbit. An easy way to remember: Apogee “A” = Away
August 24—Set your alarms for 90 minutes before sunrise to see an unobstructed view of Mercury along the horizon.
August 26 —August’s full Sturgeon Moon at 7:56 a.m. In this phase, the visible Moon is fully illuminated by direct sunlight. Although the Moon is only technically in this phase for a few seconds, it is considered full for the entire day of the event and appears full for three days.
August 27 & 28 — The Moon is now in a waning gibbous phase following a full Moon, so a daytime view is visible after sunrise the 27th in the eastern sky, and in the western sky on the 28th.
August 28 – Don’t believe the HOAX about Mars being the size of the Moon!
August 29 — Orion the Hunter rises before dawn and can be seen by the three stars that make up Orion’s belt. See if you can also spot the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, a.k.a., the Dog Star.
Information compiled with assistance from astronomer, Joe Rao.