There’s really only one skywatching event to talk about this month: a total solar eclipse. In one of nature’s most spectacular light shows, the Moon will cover the solar disk on August 21, briefly plunging a narrow path across the United States into darkness. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse.
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In the Sky This Month
August 20: Ready for the Eclipse
The Moon will eclipse the Sun tomorrow, briefly turning day to night across part of the United States. It’s completely safe to look at the Sun when it is fully eclipsed, but not at other times; it’s so bright that it can damage your eyes.
August 21: Eclipse Day
The Moon will pass directly between Earth and Sun today, creating a total solar eclipse from Oregon to South Carolina. Day will turn to night, and stars and planets will pop into view. From the rest of the country, the Moon will cover only a portion of the Sun.
August 22: Microscopium
A faint scientific instrument scoots low across the south at this time of year. Microscopium was one of 12 constellations created by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century. Its stars are quite meager, so you need dark skies and a starchart to pick it out.
August 23: Disappearing Star
NGC 6946 is both beautiful and busy. It’s a spiral galaxy that we see face-on. Over the last century, astronomers have recorded 10 supernova explosions in the galaxy, with the most recent just three months ago. So NGC 6946 is also called the Fireworks galaxy.
August 24: Moon, Jupiter, and Spica
The Moon stages another beautiful encounter early this evening. It lines up with the planet Jupiter and the star Spica, the leading light of the constellation Virgo. Jupiter is by far the brighter of the two, with Spica close to its lower left.
August 25: Moon and Jupiter
Jupiter teams up with the Moon this evening. The solar system’s largest planet looks like a brilliant star close to the lower right of the crescent Moon. The true star Spica stands below the Moon.
August 26: Milky Way Center
If you look south shortly after sunset tonight, you’ll see eight moderately bright stars arranged in the shape of a teapot. That’s the constellation Sagittarius. It’s also where the center of our galaxy is, about 27,000 light-years away.