Five bright planets cover the night sky from dusk to dawn, Saturn reaches opposition – Reading Eagle

Sunrise and sunset times (Eastern Daylight Time) — The sun rises at 6:00 a.m. and sets at 8:16 p.m. on August 1; On August 31, the sun rises at 06:28 and sets at 19:36.

Moon phases in August — full “Sturgeon Moon” on August 11; New Moon on August 27.

Stars and constellations

As darkness falls on August evenings, the constellations of summer – and a few left over from spring – begin to emerge from the twilight glow. Facing north, Ursa Major, part of the vernal constellation Ursa Major, dips to the northwest. The two front stars in Ursa Major point to the North Star, while the arc of Ursa’s handle leads to the orange giant star Arcturus, which stands high in the west. Arcturus is only 37 light-years away, while most of the stars in the Ursa Major cluster are about 80 light-years away. But Polaris is 430 light-years away, or more than 10 times farther than Arcturus and 5 times farther than the stars that make up the Big Dipper.

Looming above Polaris is the Little Dipper, the most famous asterism of Ursa Minor, Ursa Minor. Ursa Minor revolves around the Dragon, the Dragon, a large but relatively faint summer constellation. Dragon is particularly notable because one of its stars, Alpha Dracona, or Tuban (meaning “snake”), was the pole star about 4,700 years ago, around the time the Egyptian pyramids were being built. The brightness of Tuban is only one-fifth of the brightness of the polar planet

Facing south, catch one last glimpse of the spring star Spica in Virgo setting in the southwest. To Spica’s far left is orange-red Antares in Scorpio, low in the south-southwest. The scorpion’s body curls down to the horizon and then up into a curved stinger. At the end of the tail there are “cat’s eyes”, a pair of unequally bright stars – Shaula and Lesat. Above to the left of the cat’s eyes is the Sagittarian “teapot,” an easy-to-identify group. And the Summer Triangle, consisting of Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus, and Altair in Aquila, stands high in the east-northeast.

In the late evening, the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia rises low in the northeast. Also in the east can be seen the Great Square of Pegasus rising in the east, consisting of four stars in the form of a rectangle lying on its edge. The rising of Cassiopeia and Pegasus above the eastern horizon can only mean one thing: the autumn season is upon us.

Planets in the evening and morning sky, visible to the naked eye

Mercury leads the parade of planets across the night sky from dusk to dawn this August; Mercury appears as a bright star fairly low in the west about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury’s twilight visibility improves in late August; it reaches maximum brightness and greatest elongation with the Sun on the 27th.

Saturn is in opposition to the Sun on August 13, when it is at its peak brightness (as it is closest to Earth), and is also visible all night, rising in the west, setting due south at midnight, and setting in the east. Cream-colored Saturn stands out among the faint stars of Capricorn and is clearly brighter than Altair, which lies far above it, but much fainter than Jupiter, which rises a couple of hours later. Even a small telescope will clearly show Saturn’s beautiful ring system and its largest moon, Titan.

Jupiter is in the non-zoadian constellation Cetus Cetus just below the southern boundary of Pisces and well to the east of its gas giant Saturn, which it follows for 2 hours. Bright Jupiter is visible above the eastern horizon a few minutes before 11:00 PM EDT on August 1st and until 8:30 PM on August 31st. Jupiter’s turn in opposition to the Sun will take place next month, on September 26.

Mars continues to brighten steadily as it approaches Earth in December. Although Mars is nowhere near as bright as Jupiter (or Venus), it now easily outshines Saturn and rivals the night sky’s brightest stars, Vega and Arcturus. Mars rises after midnight, at 12:30 a.m., or almost 2 hours after Jupiter, in early August, and an hour earlier at the end of the month. Look for what appears to be a bright orange star above the eastern horizon half an hour after it rises and high in the south at first dawn.

Venus is the dazzling “morning star” low above the northeastern horizon at dawn. In early August, Venus rises just after 4:15 a.m. EDT, less than two hours before sunrise. By the end of the month, Venus rises around 5:15 a.m., or just over an hour before sunrise. Venus will pass the Sun (superior conjunction) in late October, then gradually reappear in twilight.

Around the night of August 12-13, Earth will pass through the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle, causing the Perseid meteor shower. Meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, but they can be seen anywhere in the sky. Unfortunately, this year the Moon will be one day past its full phase, so the bright moonlight will wash out all but the brightest meteors.

Astronomy Question for August: Why does the North Star always stay in the same place in the sky? (The answer will be given in next month’s column.)

Answer to last month’s question: Auroras (and auroras in the southern hemisphere) occur when the Sun emits large bursts of electrically charged particles (electrons, protons), especially during periods of high sunspot activity. As they flow out into the solar system, some of these particles are trapped by Earth’s magnetic field and headed down toward the polar regions, where they collide with atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen molecules, causing them to fluoresce in a typical greenish or reddish glow.

Harry J. Augensen is Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at Widener University. Astronomical information obtained from The Astronomical Almanac (2021-2025) by Richard J. Bartlett and from Guy Atwell’s Astronomical Calendar 2022, available online at For more information about the night sky, visit the Widener Observatory Stargazing website A set of free sky maps is available at

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