The full moon of August will be in the night sky on Thursday (Aug. 15), arriving just one day after the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower and three nights after making a close pass to Saturn.
The moon will officially become full at 8:29 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT), according to NASA's SkyCal. For New York City observers, that's after moonset, which will be at 5:57 a.m. However, the moon won't be noticeably smaller when it rises again at 8:21 p.m., some 27 minutes after sunset.
The Perseid meteor shower usually peaks between Aug. 9 and Aug. 14, though the shower begins as early as July 17 and can extend all the way to Aug. 24. How many meteors one sees varies both from year to year and on what nights you look. The most popular viewing time is in August because the number of meteors rises to about 60-75 per hour, according to the Amercian Meteor Society, and in midnorthern latitudes the nights are warmer. That average assumes a moonless sky, however. This year the number of meteors observers will be able to see is smaller because of the moon, which will be waxing, and its light will overwhelm the fainter meteors. So expect to see many fewer — perhaps 10-15 — because only the brightest will be able to compete with the moon. The "shooting stars" — which are the debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle — appear to come from a point in the constellation Perseus, hence the name.
Saturn meets the moon
Beyond meteors, on Aug. 12 the nearly full moon will pass close to Saturn, reaching the same celestial longitude, known as a conjunction, at 6:05 a.m., according to NASA's Skycal. The conjunction itself won't be visible as Saturn sets at 3:05 a.m. on Aug. 12, in New York, but the two bodies will remain within a fraction of a degree of each other. From Los Angeles, the conjunction will be at 2:05 a.m., according to Skycal, and per heavens-above.com calculations the planet sets at 3:05 a.m.
The moon will be just north of Saturn, and both will be in the constellation Sagittarius. By about 9 p.m. local time, the two celestial objects will be in the southeast at an altitude of about 26 degrees in New York City, high enough that they are relatively easy to spot.
Mercury makes a rare appearance
Meanwhile, Mercury reaches its greatest altitude in the morning sky a few days ahead of the full moon. On Aug. 10, the planet will be at an altitude of about 16 degrees at sunrise in New York, according to the skywatching site In-the-sky.org. Catching sight of Mercury gets better as one moves south: in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mercury will rise at 4:41 a.m. local time, and the sun won't follow until 6:06 a.m. on Aug. 10, so the planet is about 2 degrees higher in the sky. Even so, Mercury is a challenge to spot.
On the night of the full moon, the innermost planet will already be heading back into the glare of the sun. Keen-eyed stargazers in New York City can catch Mercury rising ahead of the sun, at 4:39 a.m. on Aug. 15, when the sun will rise at 6:06 a.m., according to heavens-above.com calculations. By 5:30 a.m., Mercury will be only about 9 degrees in altitude in New York. A clenched fist held at arm's length measures about 10 degrees, which means Mercury would be a bit less than that above the horizon. By that time the sky will be getting lighter, so catching the speedy planet will require a flat, clear horizon. The situation does not alter much with latitude; Mercury's altitude in San Juan at the same time on Aug. 15 will also about 9 degrees.
Other planets to look for
After the full moon, Venus will emerge from superior conjunction on Aug. 14, which occurs when the planet is on the opposite side of the sun from Earth. By Aug. 20, the planet sets at 7:44 p.m. in New York, about 15 minutes after the sun, and will be bright enough to see against the sky even before it gets fully dark. (In fact, Venus is usually one of the first "stars" to be visible in the evenings.)
Mars, meanwhile, will also be trailing the sun into the west on the night of the full moon. The planet will set in New York at about 8:09 p.m. on Aug. 15, giving skywatchers about 15 minutes of observing time. Being so (apparently) close to the sun in the sky, the Red Planet will be hard to see and it will become even less visible as the days pass — on Sept. 2, the planet will be in conjunction with the sun, before appearing again in the predawn hours.
Jupiter spends August in the constellation Ophiuchus, just north of Scorpio, where one can see it just above the bright star Antares. In mid-August, Jupiter will rise in the afternoon and set just after midnight. When the moon is full, Jupiter will reach its highest altitude at 8:11 p.m. local time, which in midnorthern latitudes will be about 27 degrees above the southern horizon. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, the planet will be much higher in the sky; an observer in Melbourne, Australia, on Aug. 15 will see Jupiter reach an altitude of 78 degrees at 7:38 p.m. local time.
As one turns eastward facing south (in the Northern Hemisphere), one will see Saturn to the left of Jupiter in Sagittarius, and the full moon will be in the southeastern sky. Saturn will also reach an altitude of about 27 degrees on Aug. 15, though it will do so some 2 hours after Jupiter does.
Stars and constellations
Although the full moon tends to overwhelm the fainter stars, asterisms such as the Summer Triangle — which consists of the stars Vega, Deneb and Altair — will be prominent and easily spotted.
About a 1.5 hours after sunset in the Northern Hemisphere, you can look nearly straight up to find the bright star Vega, which, at midnorthern latitudes, is at an altitude of between 80 and 88 degrees (depending on how far north or south you are in the lower 48 states). Meanwhile, the constellation of Leo will be setting in the west.
How the Sturgeon Moon got its name
The full moon of August, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, is sometimes known as the Sturgeon Moon. The name likely came from both colonists and Algonquian-speaking people in northeastern North America, as sturgeon are native to both Europe and the Americas. However, not every Native nation in the region used that term.
The Ojibwe — who live in what is now southeastern Canada, near the Great Lakes — referred to the eighth moon of the year as the Blackberry Moon, which could also occur in July. The Cree of Ontario called the August full moon the Flying Up Moon because it was when young birds would fledge. In the Pacific Northwest, the Haida called it the Salmon Moon ("chíin kungáay"), according to Dolly Garza's book "Tlingit Moon & Tide."
Some Asian cultures associate the August full moon with spirits. In China, the seventh lunar month, which in 2019 occurs in August, is when the Hungry Ghost Festival occurs, and it coincides with the full moon. In Buddhist and Taoist traditions, ghosts of people not given proper respect when they die will return on that day. Observance involves burnt offerings — commonly fake bank notes. Sometimes lotus-shaped lanterns are lit and sent into lakes and rivers to light the way to the afterlife for restless souls .
For Muslims, the August full moon comes halfway through the month of Dhu'l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. On the 10th day of the month, approximately four days before the full moon, is the Islamic holiday of EId al-Adha, which celebrates the story of Abraham and his offering to sacrifice his son Isaac. Traditional foods include ma'amoul, or filled shortbread cookies.
Editor's note: If you snap an awesome photo of the moon or the lunar eclipse that you'd like to share with Space.com and our news partners for a potential story or gallery, send images and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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