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 binoculars.
Here are some of our top suggestions for August stargazing:
- The Perseid Meteor Shower One of the most popular meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, peaks the night of August 12th/13th.The nearly New Moon will provide nice, dark skies and ideal conditions to see meteors streaking across the sky. As many as 90 meteors per hour can be seen during the shower's peak. Get some lawn chairs, a clear view of the sky and gather your friends & family for a night of stargazing punctuated by beautiful meteors!
- The Summer Milky Way From about August 10th through the 19th, when the Moon's phase is minimal or new, 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.
- Mars Buzzes the Beehive On the nights of August 19th through the 21st, the planet Mars will appear to pass through the open star cluster M44, also known as the Beehive Cluster. This sparkling flyby will make for a nice, albeit challenging view in astronomy binoculars and wide-field telescopes. Look for Mars on the eastern horizon around 5AM, when the pre-dawn skies will make this planetary flyby a somewhat difficult, but worthwhile sight to see.
- Venus in the Morning Sky Shining bright during the last week of August is our next-door neighbor planet, Venus. To find Venus, get a clear view to the west about 45 minutes after sunset - it will be the brightest thing in the sky, except for the Moon! By the end of the month, red planet Mars gleams just 9 degrees to the upper left of Venus, which at that time will shine as only a thin crescent, with just 8% of its disk illuminated.
- 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 in the south-southwest 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.
- Grand Summer Nebulas 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 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 filter to see them from more suburban locations.
- 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?
M81 and M82 Galaxies by Steve Peters
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.