Warm summer nights seem like they're tailor-made for backyard astronomers. Evenings throughout August are great opportunities to get the whole family outside for summer stargazing fun with a telescope or your favorite pair of binoculars. Here are a few of Orion's top picks for August stargazing:
Here are some of our top suggestions for July stargazing:
New moon occurs in the morning of August 16th (at 2:30am to be precise), so the nights surrounding the 15th and 16th will be the darkest nights of the month and therefore the best time to observe the more faint objects like galaxies and star clusters. Grab your gear and enjoy!
Perseids meteor shower
Two great nights to enjoy Perseid watching! Go outside on the evening of August 12th and after midnight into the 13th for the best chances to see the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. With up to 60 meteors expected per hour, this is one of the most popular meteor showers of the year. Conditions will be excellent this year since the thin waning crescent Moon will rise early on the 13th, providing dark skies.
Solar System in August
Full Moon is on August 1st, giving us a Blue Moon when another full phase occurs on August 30th. August 3rd is a close approach of the Moon and Saturn. The 8th has a close approach of the Moon and Jupiter. Saturn will be visible all night when it is at opposition (Earth being directly between Saturn and the Sun) on the 27th, and has a close lunar approach on the Blue Moon 30th.
Many excellent examples of gaseous nebulas are on display in the skies of August. The brightest are M16 the Eagle Nebula, M17 the Swan Nebula, M20 the Trifid Nebula and the very bright M8, 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 Broadband Filter to see these nebulas from locations plagued by light pollution.
August Challenge Object
Our challenge this month is a surprisingly easy object to see with a telescope, but not so easy with binoculars. Look for M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in the constellation of Vulpecula, just south of Cygnus. M27 is one of the nearest and brightest planetary nebulas visible from Earth. It's so big that it can be spotted in humble 7 x 50 binoculars, but it does present a challenge! 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 50mm or larger binoculars.
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.