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.
Featured photo credit: Logan Brumm via Flickr
August 1 – Conjunction of Mars & Uranus
August kicks off with a chance to use Mars as a guide to spotting distant ice giant Uranus. In the early morning hours of August 1st, Mars and Uranus will be in conjunction and have a close approach, appearing 1°22′ apart at their closest.
This means you can use your telescope or binoculars with a star- finder (or should I say planet-finder) app to hop from rusty, red Mars to cool, blue Uranus in the far reaches of the solar system. As you might have inferred, you will need equipment to spot these two as Uranus is virtually unseeable with the unaided eye.
August 4 – C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) at its Brightest
If you’re looking to pull out your telescope again in August, the 4th is another great night; instead of planet-gazing, you can spot comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) when it reaches its brightest.
After passing at its closest to Earth in July, C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) is now moving further away – but will be well aligned to catch the light of the sun and appear brightly to observers. Look for it in the constellation Scorpius, but be sure to check this table to understand the visibility window in your area.
August 11 – Conjunction of the Moon & Saturn
As we approach the Full Moon, there are a series of good astronomical events – an unfortunate combination in August, to be sure. Starting on the night of the Full Moon, the Moon and Saturn will be in conjunction and appear close together around midnight local time. At their closest, they’ll be 3°54′ apart in the sky, and you should easily be able to spot both without any equipment.
However, the Moon will be bright and may make it difficult to spot Saturn clearly if you’re using a telescope or binoculars, especially if you live in a place with pollution or high humidity.
August 12 – Peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower
If you love the night sky, you already know what makes the night of August 12th so special – it’s the peak of the Perseids! The Perseids meteor shower peaks every year in mid-August; in 2022, this peak is expected to occur in the early morning hours of August 12th. 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. Like two years ago, the Moon will be very bright and nearly full this night, so it’s best to plan your meteor viewing earlier in the night before the Moon fully rises.
August 14 – 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 14th!
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 86% 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 15 – Conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter
It’s hard to believe how far apart Jupiter and Saturn are in the night sky, after their Great Conjunction just over 18 months ago. Whereas these two planets used to have conjunctions with the Moon in close succession, they’re now occurring several nights 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 15th, the Moon and Jupiter will appear just 1°51′ apart, and you can easily hop between them with your eyes or your favorite stargazing equipment.
August 15 – Mercury at its Evening Peak
After its morning peak in June near the Grand Alignment, Mercury has now swung around to the other side of its orbit and is rising to its highest in the evening sky.
On August 15th, it will reach its evening peak, staying 9° above the western horizon after the sun sets. While this isn’t as high as other orbits based on our angle of viewing, it’s still an opportunity to spot our tiny solar system neighbor.
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.
(To note, there’s also another lunar occultation of Uranus on the night of August 18th, but it will be visible only across the North Pacific Ocean; if you’re in Hawaii, you might be able to spot it!)
August 19 – Conjunction of the Moon & Mars
Rounding out the series of planetary conjunctions this month, the Moon and Mars will appear close in the sky on the morning of August 19th. On this day, the Moon is close to its third-quarter phase and will be great if you want to pull out a telescope or binoculars to observe the terminator as well as Mars a bit more closely. At their closest, the two will appear 2°41′ apart in the constellation Taurus.
August 22 – Asteroid 4 Vesta at Opposition
Finally, let’s round out August with an asteroid viewing opportunity: in the morning hours of August 22nd, Asteroid 4 Vesta will be at opposition and brightly lit by the sun sitting on the other side of Earth from it.
4 Vesta is one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, measuring some 326 miles (525km) across on average. As such, you don’t need high-powered stargazing equipment to view Vesta; a pair of standard binoculars is more than enough to see this not-quite-dwarf planet in the main asteroid belt.
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.