The Night Sky This Month

August 2014

perseidThe thickest region of the Milky Way in Scorpius and Sagittarius reaches its highest point above the southern horizon in the mid-evening hours for northern stargazers in August, and it remains high overhead in the south.  The Perseid meteor shower builds slowly during early August and peaks before dawn on the 12th.  This year, the nearly-full Moon will obscure the Perseids at their peak. So have a look earlier in the month, after midnight after the Moon has nearly set, for this reliable and active meteor shower.  And if you don’t mind rising before dawn, you can see the planets Venus and Mercury make their closest apparent approach since 2000. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…

2 August. Look for the waxing crescent Moon in the southwestern sky after sunset. The fading planet Mars is close to the southwest.

2 August. It’s not a spectacular object, but Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques lurks in the eastern sky before sunrise. Today, the comet lies a few degrees to the right and below Capella, the bright star twinkling in the eastern sky as dawn approaches. The comet should reach about 6th magnitude, well within the reach of binoculars. More about the comet at this link.

3 August. The Moon lies between the planets Mars and Saturn in the southwestern sky after sunset. To the west of Mars lies the bright white star Spica low in the southwest. Well east of Saturn lies the unmistakable glow of Antares, the heart of Scorpius. In much of Australia, where it’s the 4th of August, observers will see the Moon pass in front of Saturn. Saturn itself remains resplendent in a telescope, its rings tilted generously from edge on.

Looking southwest at 9 p.m. on August 3, 2014. From east to west: Antares, Saturn, the Moon, Mars, and Spica

Looking southwest at 9 p.m. on August 3, 2014. From east to west: Antares, Saturn, the Moon, Mars, and Spica

4 August. First Quarter Moon, 00:50 UT

10 August. Full Moon, 18:09 UT. This will be the largest full Moon of the year.

12 August. The Perseids blaze across the sky throughout the first two weeks of August, peaking around August 12.  The shower typically shows 60 meteors an hour tracing their paths back to the constellation Perseus.  But this year, the fainter meteors will be lost in the glare of the waning gibbous Moon, so have a look during the first week of August for the build-up to the shower before the Moon gets in the way.  The Perseids are best in the northern hemisphere, but southerners may see a few too.  Learn more about the famous Perseids here… 

17 August. Last Quarter Moon, 12:26 UT

18 August. Early risers are treated today to the spectacular sight of Venus and Jupiter nearly on top of each other in the pre-dawn sky.  The two planets come within 0.2º of each other as seen from Europe, and just slightly farther apart in the rest of the world. This is the closest apparent approach of the two planets in 14 years.  Look for the pair about 5º above the eastern horizon about an hour before sunrise.  Venus is brighter than Jupiter. Note: if you have binoculars, look at the two planets and for the famous Beehive star cluster, M44, to the left or below in the same field of view.

Venus and Jupiter comes to within 1/5 of a degree in the eastern sky before dawn on August 18, 2014. The open star cluster M44 lies in the same binocular field of view.

Venus and Jupiter comes to within 1/5 of a degree in the eastern sky before dawn on August 18, 2014. The open star cluster M44 lies in the same binocular field of view.

22 August.  Look again for Venus and Jupiter in the eastern pre-dawn sky. Today they are joined by the waning crescent Moon… altogether an excellent view in a pair of binoculars.

25 August. New Moon, 14:13 UT