Comfortable August nights seem to be tailor-made for backyard astronomers. Warm August evenings are great opportunities to get the whole family outside for stargazing fun exploring the heavens with your telescope or astronomy binoculars.
- Here are some of our top suggestions for August stargazing:
- Moon occults Saturn - Get outside during the evening of August 4th with a pair of 10x50 or larger binoculars to see ringed planet Saturn appear to "hide" behind the Moon during an occultation. You can also take a closer look at this celestial disappearing act in a telescope as the Moon passes between Earth and Saturn.
- Supermoon - The closest and largest Full Moon of 2014 will brighten up the night sky of August 10th. The Moon will not come as close to Earth again until September of 2015. This so-called "Supermoon" is also called a perigee Full Moon, since "perigee" is defined as the point in space where an Earth-orbiting object is closest to our planet. Even though the Moon will be much closer to Earth than normal, it is rather difficult to visually notice the difference in size, but it should still be a spectacular sight.
- The Perseid Meteor Shower - One of the most popular meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, peaks between August 10 and August 13. A waning Gibbous Moon in the sky may make it difficult to spot as many meteors as in past years, but we think it's worth getting outside for a chance to see these fleeting fireballs. Get some lawn chairs, a clear view of the sky and gather your friends & family for a night of stargazing punctuated by beautiful meteors!
- Venus and Jupiter Conjunction - The two planets will come within just ¼ degree of each other in the pre-dawn sky of August 18th. As an added bonus, M44 the Beehive Cluster will only be a degree away as well. This will be a spectacular conjunction to observe a few mornings in a row as the planets move closer to each other.
- The Summer Milky Way - As soon as it gets dark on the evening of August 25th, when the Moon isn't visible during the New Moon phase, you can see the grandest unaided-eye sight in the night sky from a dark sky location - our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Use binoculars and telescopes to scan and tease out dozens of star clusters, nebulas and planetary nebulas. From a dark sky location, away from city lights, the Milky Way is easy to see and majestic in scale, but you can't see it near heavily populated areas due to light pollution; so plan a summer adventure to a national park or your favorite dark sky site to experience this "must-see" astronomical sight.
- Venus in the Morning Sky - Shining with astounding brightness throughout August is Venus, our next-door neighbor planet. To find Venus, get a clear view to the east in the predawn sky. it will be the brightest thing in the sky, except for the Moon! For an interesting sight, take a look at Venus through a telescope to see its partially illuminated "phase".
- Say "See You Later" to Saturn - August will be the last month this year to get a good view of Saturn through a telescope. At the beginning of August, Saturn will still be well above the horizon as the sky gets dark, so the "seeing" should be acceptable for good telescopic views. By the end of the month, it will be only about 10 degrees above the horizon at twilight's end. As an added bonus, Saturn will appear very close to the Moon - just 21 arc minutes away - on August 31st in a very close conjunction. Grab a powerful pair of binoculars or a telescope to see this nice pairing in the sky.
- Grand Summer Nebulas - Hercules Galaxy Cluster: These excellent examples of gaseous nebulas are well placed for viewing in August - See the star chart in Orion's online Community section to find out where you can track them down. The brightest are M16 the Star Queen Nebula, M17 the Swan Nebula, M20 the Trifid Nebula and the very bright M8, the Lagoon Nebula. All are visible in binoculars from dark locations with good seeing. Use a small to moderate aperture telescope with the aid of an Oxygen-III eyepiece filter or SkyGlow filter to see them from more suburban locations.
- Summertime Star Clusters - Hercules Galaxy Cluster: Even from the city, you can track down some of the brightest star clusters of the summer sky in August. The brightest and best include M13, M93, M11, M6 and M7. You can see these under good skies with a humble 60mm scope, but it will take something larger like a StarBlast 4.5 or a 6" to 8" Dobsonian reflector to reveal their true beauty.
- August's Challenge Object - This month, our challenge is actually a very easy object to see with a telescope, but not so easy with binoculars! Well suited for observing this month is M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in the constellation of Vulpecula, just south of Cygnus, the Swan or Northern Cross. M27 is one of the nearest and therefore one of the brightest and largest planetary nebulas visible from Earth. It's so big that it can be spotted in 7x50 binoculars! Try to track M27 down this August with your binoculars, it will be a small dot, slightly larger than the surrounding stars, but definitely visible through binoculars. What's the smallest binocular you can see it with?
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.