August is prime time for stargazers. The thickest region of the Milky Way reaches its highest point above the southern horizon in the mid-evening hours for northern stargazers, and arcs high overhead in the south. The Perseid meteor shower builds slowly during the first week of August and peaks before dawn on the 12th. You can even see two Full Moons this month, the second of which is sometimes, erroneously, called a “Blue Moon”. Here’s what to look for in the sky this month…
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2 August. Full Moon, 03:27 UT.
9 August. Last-Quarter Moon, 18:55 UT.
11-12 August. The Perseid meteor shower peaks between midnight and dawn. This is a fine year for meteors because the Moon is well past full, making the dark enough to reveal fainter meteors. Look for 1-2 meteors per minute in good sky.
13 August. The waning crescent Moon passes in front of Venus as seen from North America (except for the extreme east of the continent). The occultation occurs during daylight hours beginning between 21:00 and 22:oo UT, depending on your location, so this will be a difficult occultation to observe. Look for the Moon and Venus about 45º west of the Sun (about four fist-widths) using binoculars or a finder scope. Take care not to look at the Sun directly!
13 August. Mars passes between Saturn and the bright star Spica. Look low in the WSW sky after sunset (see image above). Watch the relative motion of Mars and Saturn over the next few days to see the clockwork mechanics of our solar system in action.
15 August. Venus reaches its greatest western elongation about 46º west of the Sun. The planet rises at 3 a.m. at mid-month and shines high and bright in the pre-dawn sky. Telescopic observers with magnification of 50x or more will see the half-illuminated face of Venus.
16 August. Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation. The planet is well-placed for viewing about 19º west of the Sun about an hour before sunrise over the next several days. The planet plunges towards the horizon once again by month’s end.
17 August. New Moon, 15:54 UT.
20 August. Rise early to view brilliant Jupiter in the pre-dawn hours. Late risers can wait until later this year and early next to get a view of the biggest planet during evening hours.
24 August. First-Quarter Moon, 13:54 UT.
31 August. If you’re up early, look for Mercury and Regulus separated by less than 2º very low in the ENE sky about 15-20 minutes before sunrise.
31 August. Full Moon, 13:58 UT. This is the second Full Moon this month, an event which is sometimes called a “Blue Moon”.