Full Sturgeon Supermoon (Aug. 1)
August’s full moon, nicknamed the Sturgeon Moon, will peak for the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on the evening of Aug. 1. And if you happen to miss this one, no worries—there will be a repeat performance this month, with another full moon (nicknamed a “blue moon”) occurring on Aug. 30!
The Sturgeon Moon gets its name from the species of fish native to both Europe and the Americas that’s easily caught this time of year. Other nicknames include the Corn Moon, Fruit Moon, and Grain Moon. In countries experiencing winter, such as New Zealand, Māori call this full moon “Here-turi-kōkā” or “the scorching effect of fire is seen on the knees of man.” This reference is to warm fires that glow during the Southern Hemisphere’s coldest month.
August’s full moon is also the second of 2023’s four supermoons—a moniker for when a full moon reaches 90% of perigee, its closest approach to Earth. Supermoons appear about 30% brighter and 14% larger than the moon at its farthest point (called apogee).
A Great Year for the Perseids (Aug. 13)
Regarded as one of the best celestial events of the year, the Perseid meteor shower occurs from July 17 to Aug. 24 and peaks on the evening of Aug. 13. Unlike 2022, when a full moon spoiled all but the brightest Perseids, only a waning crescent moon will grace the night sky.
The shower, sometimes creating as many as 60 to 200 shooting stars per hour, is produced as Earth passes through debris left over from the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. This 16-mile-wide periodic comet, which completes an orbit around the sun every 133 years, has been described as “the single most dangerous object known to humanity.” This is because every instance of its return to the inner solar system brings it ever closer to the Earth-moon system. Though astronomers believe the comet bears no threat for at least the next 2,000 years, future impacts cannot be ruled out.
If the comet were to hit Earth, scientists believe Swift-Tuttle would be at least 300 times more powerful than the asteroid or comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. For now, you can take in the beauty of the debris from this harbinger of doom by looking north towards the constellation Perseus. Unfortunately, a full moon coinciding with peak Perseids is likely to wash out all but the brightest shooting stars.
The New Moon Ushers in Dark Skies (Aug. 16)
Should poor weather spoil your viewing of the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, the fortunate timing of a new moon shortly will extend the window for taking in any lingering shooting stars. This is also an ideal time to dust off the telescope and search the heavens for galaxies and other deep sky objects sensitive to moonlight.
Stare Deep Into the Milky Way’s Galactic Center (All month)
August is peak Milky Way season in the northern latitudes, providing not only comfortable temperatures from which to gaze into our galaxy’s shimmering core but also great positioning in the night sky.
According to Forbes, the “Milky Way window” is when skies are free from bright moonlight, so between the Last Quarter Moon and a few days after the New Moon. By mid-August, the Milky Way will be visible by 10 p.m. and be directly overhead by midnight
Our dusty galactic core, only visible during the summer months, is located in the constellation Sagittarius. It lies about 26,000 light years away from Earth and contains a supermassive black hole, some 4 million times the size of our sun. Surrounding it are 10 million stars, composed of mostly old red giants. The bands that emanate from the core (the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy) are estimated to contain an additional 100-400 billion stars.
Saturn Reaches Opposition and Shines its Brightest (Aug. 26-27)
On the evening of August 26-27, Saturn will be at its closest and brightest to Earth for the year. Called opposition, this annual celestial phenomenon occurs when Earth’s faster orbit places it directly between a planet and the sun. Even better, you’ll be able to pick out Saturn all night as it rises just after sunset in the east and sets in the west just after sunrise. To find it, first look for Jupiter (which, at this time of year, is the brightest object in the evening sky). Saturn will be to the right and slightly higher in the sky. The skymap above is reflective of placement around midnight EST in the southeastern sky on Aug. 26.
While opposition brings Saturn closest to Earth, it’s still a staggering 746 million miles away (compared to the 38 million miles that divided Earth and Mars during their last opposition in 2020). Nonetheless, Saturn is so large (roughly 764 Earths could fit inside) that you should be able to get a sense of its rings with just a pair of binoculars. A small telescope will help bring out the details and may even give you a glimpse of Titan—Saturn’s largest moon (and, at 3,200 miles in diameter, larger than the planet Mercury!).
Marvel at the Rare Super Blue Moon (Aug. 30)
August’s second full moon, also known as a blue moon, is also the biggest and brightest supermoon of 2023! Rising on the evening of Aug. 30, the super blue will hit peak illumination around 9:36 p.m. EST. At that point, it will be at a distance of 222,043 miles from Earth, nearly 17,000 miles closer than average.
Blue moons, which happen roughly every two and a half years, aren’t exactly uncommon. However, a blue supermoon is a much rarer event, with the last occurring in 2009 and the next slated for August 2032.
Look for Earth’s shadow (All year)
Ever wonder what causes the beautiful bands of color in the eastern sky at sunset or the western sky at sunrise? The dark blue band stretching 180 degrees along the horizon is actually the Earth’s shadow emanating some 870,000 miles into space. The golden-red portion, nicknamed the “Belt of Venus,” is Earth’s upper atmosphere illuminated by the setting or rising sun.