Apair of prominent constellations heralds the short, hot nights of summer: Scorpius and Sagittarius. By the middle of August, the scorpion stands due south as night falls. Under an even modestly dark sky, you should easily make out its curving body, punctuated by the hook-shaped stinger just above the horizon. Sagittarius follows Scorpius across the sky. Its brightest stars form the outline of a teapot. Under a dark sky, “steam” appears to rise from the spout — the hazy band of the Milky Way, outlining the disk of our galactic home.
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In the Sky This Month
August 25: Neptune
Neptune, the Sun’s most remote major planet, is nearing its best showing of the year. It climbs into view in early evening, at the western edge of Aquarius. It’s so faint, though, that you need a telescope to see it.
August 26: Solar Twin
18 Scorpii, a star that is a near twin to the Sun, stands high in the southwest at nightfall, far above Antares, the heart of the scorpion. 18 Scorpii is a few degrees hotter than the Sun and a little bit brighter and more massive.
August 27: Moon in the Beehive
The Moon will pass through a “beehive” early tomorrow. It will cross in front of M44, the Beehive star cluster, in Cancer, the crab. They will be low in the eastern sky at first light. Binoculars will reveal several of the cluster’s stars.
August 28: Big Dipper
The Big Dipper hangs in the northwest this evening, with its handle up high and its bowl below it, as though it were ready to take a dip from a celestial stream.
August 29: Stellar Nurseries
A huge stellar nursery climbs high across the sky at this time of year. It’s near Deneb, the bright star that marks the tail of Cygnus, the swan. It includes two bright gas clouds, the North America Nebula and Pelican Nebula, separated by a dark cloud.
August 30: Veil Nebula
The Veil Nebula is in the constellation Cygnus, which is high in the east as darkness falls. The nebula is not far from the tip of one of the swan’s wings. It is the aftermath of a supernova. Gas from the explosion is continuing to expand into space.
August 31: First to Saturn
The sparse Aurigid meteor shower should be at its peak tonight. The shower produces only a few “shooting stars.” The Moon is new, though, so each one should shine through the darkness.