August 2022: The month offers summer’s midpoint, the heliacal rising of Sirius, a muted meteor shower, the breakup of the planet parade, and a Mars-moon spectacular.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
August 2022 promises several events for sky watchers to see.
The sun is in the sky for 14 hours, 24 minutes on August 1. Daylight shortens by 74 minutes by month’s end at Chicago’s latitude. Summer’s midpoint occurs on August 7 at 12:09 a.m. CDT. From this point, summer only has 46 days, 19 hours, 55 minutes until the first day of autumn.
First Quarter 5
Last Quarter 18
The moon is near bright stars near the ecliptic – the plane of the solar system – during the month. They are: Spica, 3rd and 30th; Antares, 6th; Aldebaran, 20th; Elnath, 21st; and Pollux, 23rd and 24th.
Mercury is in its worst evening appearance of the year. On August 1, it sets 50 minutes after sunset. It is dimming during the month, making it more difficult to see. Its latest setting time interval occurs on the 11th through the 14th at 57 minutes. Mercury reaches greatest elongation (27.3°) on the 27th. By then it sets 50 minutes after sundown and is dimming. On the 29th, Mercury is in the same binocular field as the crescent moon. Deep in bright twilight, this is a challenge, but worth the attempts early during the month if you’re trying to extent your streak of seeing the elusive planet on consecutive apparitions.
Venus seems to be reeled in by the sun. On August 1, the brilliant planet rises only 71 minutes before daybreak. Each morning the rising interval shrinks by one to two minutes. Consequently, it appears lower in the east-northeast. Starting the month 22° from the sun, Venus loses 8° of separation by month’s end. Venus passes Pollux on the 6th. Around mid-month notice that Venus has nearly the same altitude – height above the horizon as Procyon. Around the 20th, Venus has the same altitude as Sirius. On the 25th the moon is nearby.
Venus – Saturn opposition: The gap from Venus to Saturn continues to widen. Venus continues to step eastward through Gemini and Cancer, while Saturn is retrograding in Capricornus and generally following the westward migration of the constellations. On the 28th, the two planets are separated by 180° – a planet-planet opposition. Earth is between Venus and Saturn. Saturn sets as Venus rises. From its brilliance, Venus can be seen close to the horizon, but Saturn is dimmer and becomes a challenge without some optical assistance once it reaches about 5° above the horizon. Around mid-month, Saturn becomes a challenge to see when Venus rises. This leaves only three planets in the sky simultaneously, either Saturn or Venus with Jupiter and Mars.
Mars begins the month above halfway up in the east-southeast at an hour before sunrise. It is marching eastward in Aries, passing Uranus on the 1st. Both are in the same binocular for the next several days. The Red Planet crosses into Taurus on the 9th to the right of the Pleiades star cluster. The planet brightens during the month as it is noticeably moving eastward. Mars the thick crescent moon, and the Pleiades fit into the same binocular field of view on the 19th. The planet passes the cluster the next morning. Continuing its eastward trek, Mars passes between the Pleiades and Aldebaran on the 30th. Around month’s end and for several mornings during September, the Red Planet appears in the same binocular field as the Hyades star cluster and Aldebaran.
Jupiter is the bright star over halfway up in the sky during morning twilight as the month opens. Each week it is noticeably farther westward as it follows the westward constellation migration from Earth’s revolution around the sun. The Jovian Giant is retrograding in Cetus. The planet appears in the east before midnight, rising nearly 2.5 hours after sundown at the beginning of the month and 64 minutes by the 31st. The moon is nearby on the 15th. For those with telescopes, the planet’s placement high in the south during morning hours provides great opportunities to see the planet’s Great Red Spot. The spot’s longitude changes, so if a computer program is used for its visibility, update it for the latest predictions. Or use a reliable online source. The planet’s moons can be watched through the eyepiece as well.
Saturn is the fourth brightest planet in the sky during August mornings. It is about 45° to the lower right of bright Jupiter. The Ringed Wonder is retrograding in Capricornus. Use a binocular to watch its westward progress. The moon is nearby on the 11th. Saturn rises less than an hour after sunset early during the first days of August. Earth moves between Saturn and the sun on the 14th. The planet rises at sunset and seems to move across the sky all night. Through a telescope, Saturn’s rings are dazzling. The rings are tilted 13°. Five of its brightest moons are visible through the eyepiece. Titan is typically visible. A sixth moon Iapetus makes wide swings around the planet and reaches its maximum western separation on the 7th. At 9:45 p.m. CDT, look for the moon near the planet and above the rings. See the note about the Venus-Saturn opposition above.
Uranus is a morning planet in Aries. The moon is in the same binocular field with the planet on the 18th.
Neptune is retrograding in Pisces and is less than 15° to the lower right of Jupiter. The moon is in the same binocular field with the planet on the 14th.
Perseid meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 12th. The bright moon interferes with the shower and likely only the brightest are visible, perhaps 5-10 meteors per hour.
The bright stars that are in the south on winter evenings, centered on Orion, are in the eastern sky before sunrise. Sirius makes its first morning appearance during mid-August for the mid-northern latitudes. The Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – are high in the eastern sky after sunset. Sagittarius and Scorpius, with its bright star Antares, are in the south. On moonless nights, the Milky Way emerges from the horizon, between the Archer and the Scorpion and extends upward through the Summer Triangle toward the north. Look for Arcturus high in the west.
September 15, 2022: Three bright planets – Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter – are strung across the sky after midnight. Before sunrise, look for the moon near Mars.Keep reading
September 14, 2022: Three bright planets and the moon are visible overnight. The moon is near Uranus before daybreak. The Sickle of Leo is in the eastern sky before sunrise.Keep reading
September 13, 2022: Contrary to Internet memes, Mars will not appear as large as the moon when the Red Planet is closest to Earth. Overnight a planet display with Mars, the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn arches across the sky.Keep reading