August 2013

Most of the interesting parts of August are in the beginning of the month, including a morning close encounter cluster, many lunar close encounters, and, of course, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, which is looking really good this year!


3rd – 5thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury – Get out early in the morning after 4:30am but before it’s too bright out, and check out the very thin, very low crescent Moon.  On the 3rd, Jupiter will be bright and about 6˚ to the left and down from the moon, with Mars about the same distance below Jupiter.  On the 4th, the Moon will be lower and dip to about 6˚ below and to the right of Mars.  That’s the easy part.  If you’re really good or looking for a challenge, the morning of the 5th the Moon will be lower again, this time 5˚ below and to the right of Mercury, which has been about 10˚ below Mars.  This is where binoculars would help tremendously.


New Moon – 6th (darkest skies)


9thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – Look West after the Sun sets and look for a thin waxing crescent Moon.  Again, binoculars will help.  Up and to the right about 5˚ (half a fist-width) will be bright Venus as the first “star” you’ll see in that direction. 


11th - 13th Perseid Meteor Shower – This should be a good year for the Perseids, given that at its peak you could see up to 1 or 2 per minute and the crescent Moon sets early in the evening, leaving the skies dark for the rest of the night – 11pm to the morning is the best time to be watching anyway. Remember, you’re seeing the bits of dust left over from Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up as they crash into the atmosphere at 37 miles per second.

Some advice for watching:

    Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

    Look toward Perseus (In the NNE around 9pm, rises throughout the night until sunrise where it will be almost directly above.)  That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from

    The strategy to observe this one is to start watching in the evening and continue until daylight.  The shower is usually technically active from mid July to late August, so you may see some Perseids in the days leading up to and after the peak as well. 

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear ( has a good map here)

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 

If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count.  More info at S&T and IMO


12thClose Encounter – Moon & Saturn – The crescent Moon will be about 5˚ below Saturn.  Try binoculars or a telescope to the rings that Galileo called “ears” through his telescope.


First Quarter Moon – 14th (Visible until midnight)


Full Moon – 20nd (Visible all night)

Last Quarter Moon – 28th (Visible from midnight into the morning)


31st – Close Encounter – Moon & Jupiter – Look East anytime past 3am until sunrise and find the thin crescent Moon. Just 5˚ to the left of the Moon will be bright Jupiter.  Also of note: Mars is almost 20˚ down and little to the left of Jupiter at this point.

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Venus (W), Saturn (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night – None

Planets you can see in the Morning – Mars (E), Jupiter (E), Mercury (E)


Mercury – Visible in the East right around sunrise, but is very low, and gets lower each morning.  Bring binoculars.  Close to the Moon on the 5th.

Venus Sets pretty quickly after sunset (before 9pm), and will be about 10˚ above the horizon in the West.  Closest to the Moon on the 9th.


Mars – Somewhat difficult to spot this month, however, if you look East before sunrise, you may be able to locate it very close to the horizon – about 20˚.  Close to the Moon on the 4th.

Jupiter – Look East after 4am for the brightest “star” before the sun rises.  By sunrise, it’ll be 35˚ above the horizon.  Close to the Moon on the 3rd and the 31st.


Saturn – Look Southwest after sunset to find the bright object that is Saturn.  Catch it quickly, though, it sets between 10 and 11 pm, setting earlier the later in the month you’re out.  Close to the Moon on the 12th. Use binoculars or a telescope and try to see its rings, or as Galileo called them, “ears”.

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

Just after Sunset (around 8:30pm) – Hercules.  Hercules has an Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules’ “keystone” stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Extra Challenge! Use binoculars (or even a telescope) and a star chart to scan through the southern constellation of Sagittarius.  There are at least 7 easily visible clusters and nebulas up and to the right of the “teapot” of Sagittarius.

Midnight – Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila (a little to the south) – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are visible right above us around midnight (and to the east after sunset), it’s now summer!  More details below in the “General Constellation Finding Tips” 

Early Morning – Pegasus, Andromeda Extra Challenge!  Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.  It’ll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda

Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the east after sunset or straight up around midnight and you’ll be able to see Lyra (the Harp), Cygnus (the Swan), Aquila (the Eagle), (and Delphinus the Dolphin.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair – respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Off to the east of this is the small but beautiful constellation of Delphinus. 

Spring Constellations Bootes, Virgo, Leo, Corona Borealis, Hercules. 

First find the Big Dipper in the North (a North Circumpolar Asterism that never sets) and look at the handle.  Starting at the star closest to the “cup” part, follow the rest of the stars in the handle and follow the arc to Arcturus.  Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Shepherd.  Some say he looks more like a kite, others say more like an ice cream cone. 

Then, following the same “arc”, speed on to Spica.  Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.  Virgo’s a dimmer constellation, so you’ll be rewarded when you find her. 

To the left of Bootes is Corona Borealis.  This is a small collection of stars that make a crown, cup, or U shape in the sky. 

To the left of Corona Borealis is the great constellation of Hercules.  Hercules is the Hero of the sky and has a central “keystone” asterism, in which lies M13, the Hercules Cluster. 

Lastly, Leo is a constellation consisting of a backward question mark (or sickle) and a right triangle to the left.  Use the two Big Dipper “cup” stars that are in the middle of the Big Dipper and follow the line they make to the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Use a sky map from to help you out.