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Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, August 2014

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

night sky watching
The night sky is more than just the moon and stars, if you know when and where to look.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Night Sky Photos:

Video Guides: 

Sky Events August 2014

Moon Phases

Sunday, Aug. 3, 8:50 p.m. EDT

First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon rises around 1:30 p.m. and sets around 12:15 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

First Quarter Moon, August 2014
Sunday, Aug. 3, 8:50 p.m. EDT. The First Quarter Moon rises around 1:30 p.m. and sets around 12:15 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Credit: Starry Night software

Sunday, Aug. 10, 2:09 p.m. EDT

Full Moon

The Full Moon of August is known as the Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Red Moon, Green Corn Moon, or Grain Moon. It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky. Tonight the moon is very close to  a very close perigee, only 221,765 miles (356,894 km) from Earth, resulting in high tides.

Sunday, Aug. 17, 8:26 a.m. EDT

Last Quarter Moon

The Last Quarter Moon rises around 11:45 p.m. and sets around 2:30 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

Monday, Aug. 25, 10:13 a.m. EDT

New Moon

The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the Sun, but can be seen low in the East as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the West an evening or two after New Moon.

Observing Highlights

Saturday, Aug. 2, early evening

Mars and the Moon

The waxing crescent moon will pass just north of the planet Mars during the day tomorrow, and will be close to Mars in the western sky tonight just after sunset.

Sunday, Aug. 3, early evening

Mars, Saturn, and the Moon

The first quarter moon will be framed by Saturn on the left and Mars on the right tonight.

Mars, Saturn, and the Moon, August 2014
Sunday, Aug. 3, early evening. The first quarter moon will be framed by Saturn on the left and Mars on the right tonight.
Credit: Starry Night software

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 1 a.m. to dawn

Perseid meteors peak

A bright moon will interfere with the Perseid meteor shower tonight, so the best views may be earlier in the week.

Monday, Aug. 18, midnight EDT

Jupiter and Venus

Jupiter and Venus are 12 arc minutes apart at midnight EDT, but below the horizon for observers in North America. When the planets rise together around 5 a.m., they will still be only 15 arc minutes apart, fitting comfortably within a telescope’s field of view.

Monday, Aug. 18, dawn

Aldebaran, the Hyades, and the Moon

The moon passes near the bright star Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster in Taurus.

Monday, Aug. 18, dawn

Venus and the Beehive

Venus passes just south of the Beehive Star Cluster in Cancer, visible only if you have a very low clear eastern horizon

Wednesday, Aug. 20, dawn

Jupiter and the Beehive

Jupiter passes just south of the Beehive Star Cluster in Cancer, visible only if you have a very low clear eastern horizon.

Friday, Aug. 29, 11 a.m. EDT

Neptune at opposition

The planet Neptune reaches opposition with the Sun in Aquarius, at magnitude 7.8. It is 29 astronomical units from Earth and 2.4 arc seconds in diameter.

Sunday, Aug. 31, early evening

Saturn and the Moon

Saturn will be just to the right of the crescent moon in North America. Observers in West Africa will see the moon pass in front of Saturn, as seen from Ibadan, Nigeria, here.

Planets

Mercury will be too close to the Sun to observe most of the month, reappearing at dusk in the Southern Hemisphere late in the month.

Venus is low in the eastern sky, rising just before the Sun. Close encounters with Jupiter and the Beehive Cluster on the 18th, low in the dawn sky.

Venus, August 2014
Venus is low in the eastern sky, rising just before the sun. Close encounters with Jupiter and the Beehive Cluster on the 18th, low in the dawn sky.
Credit: Starry Night software

Mars is now fading rapidly in brightness as it moves towards the far side of the Sun.

Jupiter reappears from behind the Sun in the middle of the month, rising in morning twilight.

Saturn, in Libra, is low in the mid-evening sky.

Uranus is located in the constellation Pisces, rising in the late evening.

Neptune is in opposition to the Sun on the 29th in Aquarius, visible all night long.

Skywatching Terms

  • Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
  • Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
  • Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
  • Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
  • Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.

Further Reading

Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.

Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.

Major Night Sky Events for 2013: A list of skywatching opportunities.

Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when’s the next lunar eclipse.

Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.

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