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August 1, 2020 – What’s Up for August? This month brings a bunch of opportunities to see the Moon posing with the planets, plus here come the meteors!

On August 1st, the Moon makes a lovely triangle with Jupiter and Saturn low in the southeast after sunset. The trio is visible all night, rising to its highest point in the south around 11 p.m. local time. If you miss them, there’s another chance at the end of the month, on August 28th, as the Moon swings back around in its orbit to join the planetary pair.

On August 9th, Mars will appear super close to the Moon before dawn. Look toward the south, high in the sky, and you can’t miss it – Mars is the bright, reddish point of light just right of the Moon. Weather permitting, this should be a beautiful sky, with the Pleiades, Orion, Aldebaran and Venus to the southeast.

On August 15th, in the hour before sunrise, look for Venus in the east, just a couple of finger widths apart from the crescent Moon. And if you take a look before the sky gets too bright, you’ll see the duo surrounded that morning by a ring of bright stars.

The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on the morning of August 12th. The last-quarter moon will interfere with visibility of most fainter Perseid meteors this year, but you’ll still be able to see a few brighter ones, including the occasional “fireball.” The best time to look is in the pre-dawn hours on Aug. 12, but midnight to dawn any morning the week before or after should produce a few meteors. The Perseids generally appear to radiate from a point high in the north, called the “radiant.” But you need only point yourself generally toward the north and look up.

Sky chart for mid-U.S. latitudes showing the location on the sky of the radiant, or apparent area of origin, for the Perseid meteors. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

And while we’re talking meteors, did you know many of these “shooting stars” come from comets? Most of the annual meteor showers we observe take place as Earth passes through trails of debris left behind by active comets orbiting the Sun, casting off little bits of dusty debris in their long tails. The Perseid meteors come from a comet called Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun every 133 years.

In July, a comet that was just discovered this spring by NASA’s NEOWISE mission made an appearance in our skies, wowing observers on the ground and even in space! This comet has a nearly 7,000-year orbit around the Sun, so it won’t be back this way for a long time, but it’s possible a meteor you see some night in the future might just be a little reminder of comet “NEOWISE.”

Here are the phases of the Moon for August. You can catch up on all of NASA’s missions to explore the solar system and beyond at nasa.gov. I’m Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and that’s What’s Up for this month.

The phases of the Moon for August 2020. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More skywatching info: Summer with Jupiter and Saturn, and fast-fading Comet NEOWISE

On the evening of the full Moon, as evening twilight ends, the bright planet Jupiter and the fainter planet Saturn will appear in the southeast, with Jupiter to the right about 19 degrees above the horizon and Saturn on the left about 18 degrees above the horizon. The bright star appearing closest to overhead will be Vega, the brightest of the stars of the “Summer Triangle,” appearing 72 degrees above the eastern horizon. The other bright stars of the “Summer Triangle” are Deneb, which will appear about 50 degrees above the horizon in the east-northeast, and Altair, which will appear about 43 degrees above the horizon in the east-southeast. The comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), if it is still visible with amateur telescopes, will appear almost due west at about 35 degrees above the horizon (but since it is a diffuse object, you may want to look later in the night when the sky has had a chance to really darken).

As the lunar cycle progresses, the background of stars and planets will appear to shift towards the west. This summer should be a great time for Jupiter and Saturn watching, especially with a backyard telescope. Jupiter was at its closest and brightest for the year on July 14, and Saturn at its closest and brightest on July 20, 2020, (called “opposition” because they will be opposite the Earth from the Sun). Both will appear to shift towards the west over the summer months, making them visible earlier in the evening sky (and friendlier for backyard stargazing, especially if you have young ones with earlier bedtimes). With clear skies and a small telescope you should be able to see Jupiter’s four bright moons, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io, shifting positions noticeably in the course of an evening. For Saturn, you should be able to see the brightly illuminated rings as well as the motions of Saturn’s moons, particularly the largest moon, Titan.

By the evening of September 1, 2020 (the evening just before the full Moon after next), as evening twilight ends (at 8:37 PM EDT for the Washington, DC area), the bright planet Jupiter and the fainter planet Saturn will appear in the south-southeast, with Jupiter to the right about 27 degrees above the horizon and Saturn on the left about 26 degrees above the horizon. The bright star appearing almost exactly overhead will be Vega, the brightest of the stars of the “Summer Triangle,” appearing 86 degrees above the eastern horizon. The other bright stars of the “Summer Triangle” are Deneb, which will appear about 62 degrees above the horizon in the east-northeast, and Altair, which will appear about 53 degrees above the horizon in the southeast. If you are one of the approximately 20 percent of the USA population living near areas dark enough you might be able to see the Milky Way running across the sky from south-southwest to north-northeast once the sky darkens to full nightfall. See the entry below for August 25 for more information on the Qixi Festival and Chinese legends related to these three stars and the Milky Way.

Daily Guide

August 1-2

On Saturday morning, if you have a clear view of the horizon in the east-northeast, you might be able to see the bright star Pollux about 7 degrees to the upper left of the planet Mercury. For the Washington, DC area, Mercury will rise at about 4:49 AM EDT and will be only about 2 degrees above the horizon at the time morning twilight begins at 5:04 AM.

Saturday is Lammas Day, a Christian holiday celebrated in some English-speaking countries that may have derived from earlier pagan celebrations. We currently divide the year into four seasons based upon the solstices and equinoxes, with summer ending on the autumnal equinox in September. This approximates summer as the quarter of the year with the warmest temperatures. The Celts and other pre-Christian Europeans celebrated “cross-quarter days” halfway between the solstices and equinoxes, and divided the seasons on these days. Using this definition, summer was approximately the quarter of the year with the longest daily periods of daylight, with summer traditionally ending August 1st (the middle of our summer). Names for this end of summer and start of the fall harvest season include Lughnasadh, Lughnasa, Lúnasa, Lùnastal, and Luanistyn.

On Saturday night into Sunday morning, the bright planet Jupiter will appear above the waxing gibbous Moon with Saturn appearing to the left to form a triangle. For the Washington, DC area, the Moon will be about 17 degrees above the horizon in the southeast as evening twilight ends at 9:24 PM EDT. The Moon will reach its highest in the sky for the night at midnight on Sunday morning and Jupiter will set first in the west-southwest at 4:35 AM, followed by the Moon (at 4:49 AM) and Saturn (at 5:14 AM).

August 3: Full Moon

Sometime around Monday, August 3, 2020 (2020-Aug-03 23:36 UTC with 1 day, 14 hours, 25 minutes uncertainty), Near Earth Object (2018 BD), between 3 and 6 meters (8 to 19 feet) across, will pass the Earth at between 3.8 and 24.4 lunar distances (nominally 7.5), traveling at 9.41 kilometers per second (21,060 miles per hour).

As mentioned above, the next full Moon will be midday on Monday, August 3, 2020, appearing opposite the Sun in Earth-based longitude at 11:59 AM EDT.

August 8-9

On Saturday night into Sunday morning, the planet Mars will appear near the waning gibbous Moon. For the Washington, DC area, the Moon will rise in the east Saturday night at 11:04 PM EDT, with Mars appearing less than 3 degrees to the left of the Moon. They will appear at their closest to each other early Sunday morning in the hour or so before morning twilight begins at 5:13 AM, with Mars appearing above the Moon.

On Sunday morning, August 9, 2020, at 9:51 AM EDT, the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.

August 11

Tuesday midday, the waning Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its last quarter at 12:45 PM EDT.

The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 (when we can’t see them from the Americas). The best time to look from North America should be late on Tuesday night, August 11, or early on Wednesday morning, August 12, 2020. The meteor shower summary earlier in this Moon Missive has more information on when and where to look.

August 12

On Wednesday morning, the planet Mercury will be just rising about 30 minutes before sunrise, an approximation of when it will start being too close to dawn to see in the morning. Mercury will pass on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth five days later.

On Wednesday, the planet Venus will appear at its greatest separation from the Sun as seen from the Earth in the morning sky, called its greatest western elongation. Because the angle of the line between the Sun and Venus and the horizon is becoming more perpendicular, the date when Venus and the Sun appear farthest apart as seen from the Earth is not the same as when Venus is highest above the horizon as morning twilight begins. This occurs in early September.

August 13

On Thursday morning, the bright star Aldebaran will appear about 4 degrees below the waning crescent Moon. For the Washington, DC area, Aldebaran will rise below the Moon in the east-northeast at 1:18 AM EDT, and will be to the lower right of the Moon in the east-southeast as morning twilight begins around 5:17 AM.

August 15

On Saturday morning, the bright planet Venus will appear below the waning crescent Moon. For the Washington, DC area, Venus will rise about 4 degrees below the Moon in the east-northeast at 2:50 AM EDT, and the pair will appear about 30 degrees above the horizon in the east as morning twilight begins around 5:19 AM.

August 16

On Sunday morning, the bright star Pollux (the brighter of the twins in the constellation Gemini) will appear about 8 degrees to the left of the waning crescent Moon. For the Washington, DC area, Pollux will rise in the northeast at 3:29 AM EDT and the pair will appear about 20 degrees above the horizon in the east-northeast as morning twilight begins at 5:20 AM.

August 17

On Monday morning, the planet Mercury will pass on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called superior conjunction. Because Mercury orbits inside of the orbit of Earth, it will be shifting from the morning sky to the evening sky and will begin emerging from the glow of the dusk on the western horizon around August 29, 2020 (depending upon viewing conditions).

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August 18: “Black Moon”

Tuesday evening, at 10:41 PM EDT, will be the new Moon, when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from the Earth. This will be the third new Moon in a season with four new Moons, so (following the analogy for naming Blue Moons) some now call this a “Black Moon.”

August 19

The day of or the day after the New Moon typically marks the start of the new month for most lunisolar calendars. The seventh month of the Chinese calendar starts on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 (at midnight in China’s time zone, which is 12 hours ahead of EDT). In the Islamic calendar the months traditionally start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon after the New Moon, although many Muslim communities now follow the Umm al-Qura Calendar of Saudi Arabia, which uses astronomical calculations to start months in a more predictable way. Sunset on Wednesday, August 19, 2020, will probably mark the beginning of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year, one of the four sacred months in which warfare is forbidden. Sundown on Thursday, July 20, 2020, marks the start of Elul in the Hebrew calendar.

August 21

On Friday morning at 6:58 AM EDT, the Moon will be at perigee, its closest to the Earth for this orbit.

The 10-day celebration of Onam in Kerala, India, will begin on Saturday, August 22, and end on the day of the next full Moon on September 2, 2020.

August 22

On Saturday evening, the bright star appearing to the lower left of the waxing crescent Moon will be Spica. For the Washington, DC area, as evening twilight ends at 8:54 PM EDT, the Moon will appear in the west-southwest at about 15 degrees above the horizon. Spica will set first at about 9:52 PM.

August 25

On Tuesday afternoon, the Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its first quarter at 1:58 PM EDT.

There are approximately 7 days between each phase of the Moon, so the first quarter Moon tends to occur on the 7th day of a lunisolar month. Tuesday, August 25, 2020, will be the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. The seventh night of the seventh month is known as the double seventh festival, Qixi in China, Chilseok in Korea, Thất Tịch in Vietnam, and is sometimes called the Chinese Valentine’s Day. There are many variations on the legend, but basically, they involve the three bright stars we know as the “Summer Triangle” and the Milky Way. Vega represents the weaver girl and the bright star Altair represents the cowherd. They fall in love and neglect their duties, so the Goddess of Heaven puts a wide river in the sky, represented by the Milky Way, to keep them apart. They are allowed to meet only one night a year, on the seventh night of the seventh month, when the bright star Deneb forms a bridge across the Milky Way. In some versions of the legend, the bridge is formed by magpies, so this is sometimes called the Magpie Festival. The Japanese Tanabata or Star Festival is related, but is no longer tied to the lunisolar date (it is now celebrated on July 7th, the double seventh of the Gregorian Calendar).

On Tuesday night, August 25, 2020, the bright star Antares will appear to the lower left of the waxing half-moon. For the Washington, DC area, as evening twilight ends at 8:49 PM EDT, the Moon will appear in the south-southwest about 26 degrees above the horizon, and Antares will set first in the southwest at 11:48 PM.

August 28-September 2

On Friday night into Saturday morning, the bright planet Jupiter will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon, with the fainter planet Saturn appearing nearby. As evening twilight ends (at 8:44 PM EDT for the Washington, DC area) the Moon will appear in the south-southeast about 24 degrees above the horizon, with Jupiter appearing about 2 degrees above the Moon and Saturn appearing about 9 degrees to the left. The Moon will reach its highest in the sky for the night at 9:55 PM, appearing in the south about 26 degrees above the horizon. Jupiter and the Moon will set together in the west-southwest Saturday morning at 2:38 AM, with Jupiter on the right and Saturn above the Moon.

Saturday evening will be (for the Washington, DC area, at least) the first evening when Mercury will still be above the horizon about 30 minutes after sunset, an approximation of when it will start being visible in the evening sky after sunset.

Saturday evening into Sunday morning, the planet Saturn will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon, with the brighter planet Jupiter also appearing nearby. For the Washington, DC area, as evening twilight ends at 8:42 PM EDT, the Moon will appear in the south-southeast about 21 degrees above the horizon, with Saturn appearing to the upper right of the Moon and Jupiter appearing farther to the right. The Moon will reach its highest in the sky for the night at 10:49 PM and Jupiter will set first in the west-southwest Sunday morning at 2:34 AM.

Sometime in late August or early September, 2020 (2020-Sep-01 16:12 UTC with 8 days, 8 minutes uncertainty), Near Earth Object (2011 ES4), between 22 and 49 meters (73 to 162 feet) across, will pass the Earth at between 0.2 and 41.2 lunar distances (nominally 0.3), traveling at 8.16 kilometers per second (18,260 miles per hour).

The full Moon after next will be early on Wednesday morning, September 2, 2020.