Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide.
All month: Five bright objects string out in the south and west during August evenings, two stars and three planets, and the moon makes a sixth in the string during the first week as it goes through first-quarter phase. Get to know them early in the month, and you'll know them well by September!
Jupiter is highest and brightest of the five, well up in the south at dusk. A reddish start to its right and lower will be Antares in Scorpio, then, lower still, Mars (rust-tinted) and Saturn close by each other, and finally Spica, brightest of Virgo's stars, nearest the horizon. The moon is lowest of all on the 1st, highest of all by the 8th, sliding along the string in the interim.
Events in the calendar are expressed in local time unless otherwise stated, but be sure to correct for daylight time.
Aug. 1: The four-day-old crescent moon decorates the western sky from sunset till it sets about 10 p.m. Look to its left for the best August evening objects, stretched out in a line toward the south. Recognize them? If not, read on and let the moon guide you night by night.
Aug. 2: The bright star below the moon tonight is Spica, in Virgo. The moon passed by it in daylight, and it separates slowly to its left during the night.
Aug. 3: First-quarter moon tonight (at 9:33 Eastern standard time), and it has a date with Saturn. Just two hours earlier, about sunset, the moon passes the planet close enough to cover it (an occultation) over the Southern Hemisphere. Watch the moon slide away to the left of Saturn before the two set (about 11 p.m.). And look to their left to see where the moon will be tomorrow night.
Aug. 4: Another night, another planet for the moon to show you. Tonight it's Mars, below the moon, dimmer than it's been this summer, but still brighter than Saturn.
Aug. 5-6: Two nights off for planet watching, unless you want to check your memory on the three bright objects to the moon's right, and try your hand with the really bright one to its left. The trio on the right, of course, is still Mars, Saturn, and Spica (in that order), our friends from previous nights. Take a peek at Wednesday, Aug. 7, if you can't name the one of the left.
Aug. 7: That's Jupiter just above the moon at dusk, up in the southeast. How can you tell? Well, if you look at the moon's phase (only a few days from full) or at Jupiter's position in the east, you would know that it can't set until well after midnight. By the way, the moon and Jupiter are in Sagittarius tonight. The insert map shows you how to recognize the Archer by a teapot-shaped star arrangement.
Aug. 11: Full moon today (at 10:43 a.m. EST), but it's going to spoil the Perseid meteors tonight. Spoil, but not destroy; the meteors of this shower are not only reliable (about 50 per hour tomorrow morning, near maximum), and they are often very bright. So if you want to get up about 1 a.m. and watch for an hour or so, go ahead, you'll see some!
Aug. 13: Mercury begins its retrograde (westerly) motion through the stars today, heralding its inferior conjunction (passing between Earth and sun) soon.
Aug. 14: The moon is at apogee tonight (about midnight), and it's also just below the First Point of Aries (another name for the Vernal Equinox), though it's nowhere near Aries.
Aug. 26: New moon, in Leo at 2:25 p.m. EST. Spring tides occur.
Aug. 27: Perigee moon, and its effect will cause the spring tides to linger and prime (come later and rise higher).
Aug. 28: Mercury's retrograde brings it between sun and Earth today, and it becomes a morning star.
Aug. 29: Jupiter ends its westerly (retrograde) trek and starts east through Sagittarius.
Aug. 31: Saturn and the moon are at it again! The slim new crescent passes Saturn about 4 a.m. EST, and another occultation occurs in the Eastern Hemisphere. After sundown tonight, both are in the west, but separated somewhat.