Planets, asteroids, and meteors – oh my! August is one of the best night months of the year for astronomical events. This is primarily due to the Perseids, arguably the best meteor shower of the year. But the Perseids aren’t the only thing worth seeing in the night sky this month. The August night sky has plenty else to see.
Before jumping into the list of night sky events in August, I want to provide some recommendations for telescopes and binoculars; some of the events this month will require having one if you want to see them. If you need a telescope to help enjoy any of this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. We also have guides based on price, whether you want to buy a solid telescope under $300 or splurge on a one of the best telescopes under $1,000 instead. If you’d rather use astronomical binoculars, I have a guide to binoculars under $1000. (More guides at lower price points are coming soon!)
Okay without further ado, let’s jump into the astronomical events in the August night sky. Here are all the planets, asteroids, and meteors you can mark on your calendar for some epic stargazing this month.
This post was originally published in August 2018, and was updated most recently in July 2023.
August 3 – Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn
August kicks off with a series of planetary viewing opportunities; there are, of course, a number of other interesting deep space objects to see – and a few meteor showers that will peak later in the month… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In the first week of the month, your best astronomical event in the August night sky will be the close approach of the Moon and Saturn in the pre-dawn hours of August 3rd. A bright and nearly-full waxing gibbous moon (92% illuminated) will be visible just 2°15′ from Saturn; both can be seen with the un-aided eye, though using a telescope or binoculars will help you see Saturn’s rings and look more closely at the beautiful face of the Moon.
August 8 – Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
It’s hard to believe how far apart Jupiter and Saturn are in the night sky, after their Great Conjunction almost two years ago. Whereas these two planets used to have close approaches with the Moon in close succession, they’re now occurring almost a week apart. As Saturn has already taken its turn in August, it’s now Jupiter’s time to have close approach in the night sky.
In the early morning hours of August 8th, the Moon and Jupiter will appear just 2°39′ apart, and you can easily hop between them with your eyes or your favorite stargazing equipment should you decide to stay up late to see them at their closest.
August 13 – Peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower
If you love the night sky, you already know what makes the night of August 13th so special – it’s the peak of the Perseids! The Perseids meteor shower peaks every year in mid-August; in 2023, this peak is expected to occur in the morning of the 13th. At its peak, you can expect to see up to 150 meteors per hour! This, combined with warm weather in the northern hemisphere, makes it the most popular meteor shower of the year.
The Perseids Meteor Shower is caused when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left by the Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle has a 133-year orbital period, but we experience a yearly meteor shower due to variations in the Earth’s orbit and width of the debris stream.
To spot the Perseids, look for them radiating from a point in the northeastern sky. The best part of trying to view the Perseids meteor shower this year is the moon phase: a nearly new moon on the peak night will present zero interference with spotting as many shooting stars as you can.
August 18 – Peak of the κ-Cygnid Meteor Shower
The second meteor shower in August will occur on the night of August 18th. On this night, you can look for the peak of the κ-Cygnid meteor shower at a rate of roughly 3 meteors per hour. This meteor shower is not as bombastic as the Perseids a few days earlier, and the Moon will still be about 50% illuminated on this night.
To spot κ-Cygnid meteors, look for the constellations of Draco near Cygnus (with its distinctive cross asterism). On the 18th, κ-Cygnid meteors will appear to radiate from this area of the sky, high above the northeastern horizon.
August 26 – Asteroid 8 Flora at Opposition
Several asteroids reach opposition in August, but the only one that seemed meaningful to include on this list is 8 Flora; it reaches opposition on the night of August 26th and will be most easily spotted using binoculars or a telescope. While 8 Flora is large – in fact, it’s the largest asteroid closest to the sun in the main belt – it does require equipment to spot, so get set up then use a star-finder app to lock onto this large, bright asteroid.
August 27 – Saturn at Opposition
August starts off quietly, but with one major astronomical event worth seeing: Saturn will be at opposition on the night of August 27th!
What does this mean? For those not familiar with the term, it means that Saturn will be directly opposite from the sun in the sky – or that the Earth is exactly lined up with the sun on one side and Saturn on the other. This means that from our perspective on the night of the 1st, Saturn in the night sky will be brightly illuminated by the sun shining on the Earth’s daytime side. (It’s a great night to try and see Saturn!)
The moon will be 85% illuminated on this night, so be sure to check a night sky app to understand where the moon will be before you pull out your telescope or astronomical binoculars to try and spot Saturn and its lovely rings.
August 30 – Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn
Rounding out the series of planetary conjunctions this month, the Moon and Saturn will again appear close in the evening sky on August 30th. At their closest, the two will appear 2°16′ apart in the constellation Aquarius.
Additionally, the Moon will be nearly full on the night of August 30th, so it will be very bright and easy to observe if you pull out a telescope or binoculars to look more closely at the fascinating craters and features of the lunar surface, in addition to Saturn’s iconic rings.
Do you have questions or comments about these events in the August night sky, or are there others I missed and should add to this list? Let me know in the comments.