August nights provide an excellent chance to see the spectacle of the Milky Way, especially early and late in the month, when there’s little or no moonlight to overpower its subtle glow. It arcs directly overhead around midnight, anchored by teapot-shaped Sagittarius in the south. The dazzling planets Venus and Jupiter, and the fainter planets Saturn and Mars, zip past each other in the last half of the month.
This Week's Stargazing Tips
August 1: Lunar Checkers
The Moon will jump over several stars and planets the next few evenings. The first is Spica, the brightest star of Virgo, which is to the left or upper left of the Moon this evening. Then come Mars, Saturn, and Zubenelgenubi, a star in Libra.
August 2: Moon and Mars
Mars stands close to the left of the Moon this evening. The planet, which is roughly half the size of Earth, looks like a bright orange star.
August 3: Moon and Companions
The first-quarter Moon snuggles close to two pinpoints of light this evening. A faint star with a great name, Zubenelgenubi, is close to the left of the Moon, with the brighter planet Saturn a little farther to the upper left.
August 4: Moon and Saturn
The giant planet Saturn stands to the right of the Moon this evening, and looks like a bright golden star. Saturn has more than 60 known moons of its own, including one with a thick, cold atmosphere and seas and lakes of liquid methane and ethane.
August 5: Moon and Antares
The bright orange star Antares, the leading light of Scorpius, is in the south at nightfall, directly below the Moon. It is at the heart of the scorpion’s curving body.
August 6: Zodiacal Light
During moonless August mornings, a ghostly pyramid of light sometimes rises from the eastern horizon. This pale glow, known as zodiacal light, is produced by sunlight reflecting off tiny dust grains in the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
August 7: The Neighborhood
A few of our stellar neighbors are hard to miss. Vega, which passes high overhead on August evenings, is just 25 light-years away. And Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is nine light-years away. It’s ready to climb into view in the dawn sky.
Check last week's tips if you missed a day.