The August Skies

“There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god.”

— J. B. S. Haldane

Use binoculars to help locate Mercury in the east-northeast predawn sky during the last week of August. Its disk is just over 40 percent lit.

Venus shines brightly, low in the western evening twilight, sinking lower in the sky each night. Its phase diminishes from 57 percent to 40 percent lit during the month.

Mars appeared biggest and brightest in 15 years on July 31. Throughout the month of August, it will still look bigger and brighter than it has since 2003. Even at the end of the month, Mars’ globe will be 21″ wide in a telescope. Take advantage of this rare close approach and try to observe Mars through a telescope. If none are available to you, contact the Martz/Kohl observatory (716-569-3689) to determine viewing times using their large telescopes.

The planetary nebula Abell 39 is one of the largest spheres known in our Galaxy. It represents the atmosphere that was ejected from a star. Viewing this object will require at least a 16-inch amateur telescope and a very dark viewing site. Courtesy NOAO, AURA, NSF

Jupiter, shining at magnitude-2.0, is bright in the southwest at dusk. A telescope will enable you to view the cloud bands in the Jovian atmosphere and also the four large moons that continually move around the huge planet.

The beautiful ringed planet Saturn glows with a yellowish hue in the southern sky during evening twilight. Its rings are still tilted at nearly 27 degrees, giving us an absolutely tremendous view of their structure. Don’t miss this incredible sight in a telescope.

Uranus, shining at magnitude 5.8, can be glimpsed without optical aid under a dark sky from a dark site. Binoculars will help to locate it in the southeastern predawn sky and a telescope will reveal its tiny blue-green disk.

Remote Neptune requires binoculars or a small telescope to locate it in eastern Aquarius. Look for a tiny blue-gray disk.

The Perseid Meteor Shower will reach its peak before dawn on the morning of Aug. 13. Moonlight will not be a problem this year since its less than two days after New Moon. From a dark observing site, viewers may see an average of one to two meteors per minute during the peak period which occurs between midnight and dawn.

The globular cluster M56 in Lyra is located about 33,000 light-years from Earth. Many of its stars can be resolved with an 8-inch telescope from a dark site on a moonless night. Courtesy NASA, ESA, Hubble Space Telescope

Editor’s note: This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and the Post -Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at

The galaxy collision known as NGC6745 consists of galaxies that have been colliding for hundreds of millions of years. This object can be glimpsed in the constellation Lyra on moonless clear nights this month with medium size amateur telescopes from a dark site. Courtesy NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team

M102 (Spindle Galaxy) as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope is tilted almost exactly edge-on to our line-of-sight. This galaxy is located 44 million light-years away in the Northern Constellation of Draco and can be viewed with small telescopes on clear summer nights. Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team