Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide

By , Director, the American Museum of Natural History, New York

The sky chart is designed to correspond to the sky at 10 p.m. the first of the month, 9 p.m. in the middle of the month, and 8 p.m. at the end of the month standard time. All month: Three planets give us two bright objects in the evening and two bright objects in the morning this month! One is Jupiter, just past opposition. We see it both after sunset and before sunrise. Saturn is in the southwest in the early evening, Jupiter in the southeast. Saturn sets within a few hours, but Jupiter rises higher and appears at its highest in the south about midnight. Continuing across the sky in the morning hours, it eventually fades into the western twilight before sett ing shortly before sunrise. Meantime, Venus rises high and bright in the southeast before the sun comes up.

Jupiter is the brightest ``star'' you will see on August nights this year until Venus rises, and then you will find Venus about twice as bright. Saturn is a little dimmer. The moon will help locate it on the 22nd, but you can also find it if you can recognize Scorpius, with the hooked tail and the reddish star at his heart. Saturn is out in front of the Scorpion, nestled between two dimmer stars that might be the tips of Scorpio's claws.

Later this month Mercury reaches its greatest distance to the sun's right, rising just after dawn in the east, but fading rather quickly into the morning brightness.

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(Events in the calendar below are given in local time unless indicated otherwise.)

Aug. 1: The moon is one day past full, riding the border between Capricornus and Aquarius across the sky. The only bright object within its glow is Jupiter.

Aug. 2-7: The waning gibbous moon works east through the autumn stars, rising in the late evening as it continually grows thinner and dimmer.

Aug. 4: Jupiter has been slowly edging away from the morning and into the evening. Opposite the sun at about 7 a.m. Eastern standard time, it rises tonight slightly before sundown, making it an evening star. But it still has a healthy presence in the dawn.

Aug. 7: Apogee moon (farthest from Earth) is in Aries.

Aug. 8: Last-quarter moon, still in Aries, is at 1:29 p.m. EST.

Aug. 9-11: The morning moon, a shrinking crescent, moves through Taurus, a constellation we will see in the evening this winter.

Aug. 10: Mercury, at inferior conjunction (between Earth and sun), enters the morning sky.

Aug. 11-13: The best mornings for the Perseid Meteor Shower. Expect 30 to 50 meteors an hour (maximum in the post-midnight hours Sunday night), many very bright. If you haven't seen a meteor shower yet, try this one this year. Best time is from 1 to 3 a.m.; best place is where you can comfortably see as much of the sky as possible.

Aug. 13: Watch the crescent moon crawl away from Venus in the dawn sky.

Aug. 16: New moon is in Leo at 5:06 a.m. EST.

Aug. 18: The young crescent moon is in the southwest after sundown, just above the summer solstice.

Aug. 19: Tonight's crescent moon, near Spica in Virgo, is at perigee (nearest Earth).

Aug. 20: Mercury resumes direct (easterly) motion today.

Aug. 22: The moon is about to pass into Scorpius when it reaches first-quarter phase at 11:26 p.m. EST. Saturn is to its right, in Libra.

Aug. 23: The reddish star near tonight's moon is Antares, in the Scorpion.

Aug. 25: The gibbous moon helps find the teapot-shaped group of stars that marks Sagittarius. The peak of the teapot ``lid'' is just above the moon, spout to the right, handle to the left.

Aug. 27-28: The gibbous moon slips east past Jupiter in Capricornus. The planet is to the moon's left on the 27th, to its right on the 28th.

Aug. 28: Mercury is in the morning sky of late August, low in the east before sunrise. It's at greatest westerly (to the sun's right) elongation today.

Aug. 30-31: Full moon is on Friday at 4:27 a.m. EST. The moon spends both days in Aquarius, then slips into Pisces Saturday night.

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