The Sky This Week from August 5 to 12

Saturday, August 6
The waxing Moon sits between the claws of Scorpius in the south this evening, so let’s look north instead of for darker skies.

Bright Vega in Lyra sits high in the north this evening, shining at magnitude 0. This star will someday sit above Earth’s North Celestial Pole, as our planet wobbles slowly on its axis and shifts from pointing at Polaris to Vega.

But Vega is not our main target tonight — instead, we’re looking for what Astronomy Columnist Phil Harrington calls “one of summer’s premiere carbon stars:” T Lyrae. Sometimes referred to as the Jewel in the Harp, this 8th-magnitude luminary shows off its deep red color as a result of the ample carbon in its atmosphere, which scatters blue and green light but lets red wavelengths shine through to reach us. To see T Lyrae, you’ll want larger binoculars or a small telescope. It sits just 2° southwest of Vega, amid a scattering of faint white stars. Harrington recommends aiming first at Vega, then shifting your view so that Vega sits in the northeast corner of your field of view. Then look across the starfield until you see T Lyrae’s crimson glow pop out.

Sunrise: 6:03 AM
Sunset: 8:08 PM
Moonrise: 3:17 p.m
Moonset: 12:16 AM
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (64%)

Sunday, August 7
Venus passes 7° south of Pollux in Gemini the Twins at 6 AM EDT. You can catch the pair before sunrise in the east; An hour before the Sun peeks above the horizon, Venus is roughly 20° high, with golden-hued Pollux (magnitude 1.2) to its upper left. Through a telescope, Venus’ bright disk will appear nearly full — 94 percent lit — and 11″ across. The planet is moving east along the ecliptic relatively quickly and will cross into nearby Cancer within a few days. In less than two weeks, it will meet up with the stunning Beehive Cluster (M44).

Pollux is a star with nearly twice the mass of our Sun, but which is slightly cooler — albeit more luminous. It marks one of the Twins’ heads. Directly above Pollux is magnitude 1.6 Castor, the other Twin’s head. It is an easy-to-split double with a third companion just over 1′ away. Each of these stars is also double, meaning Castor is truly a sextuple system.

Despite the fact that Pollux is the brighter star, it is designated as Beta Geminorum, while Castor received the title of alpha.

Sunrise: 6:04 AM
Sunset: 8:07 PM
Moonrise: 4:32 p.m
Moonset: 12:55 AM
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (74%)

Monday, August 8
The gas giant Saturn is nearing opposition, making now the best time to view its stunning ring system and many moons. Rising as the Sun sets, give Saturn an hour or two to climb away from the horizon. By about 10 PM local time, Saturn is more than 15° high in the southeast; its altitude will continue to increase into the early morning, when it reaches its highest point above the horizon about an hour and a half after midnight.

Saturn sits in Capricornus, just 2° northwest of magnitude 2.9 Deneb Algedi. The ringed planet is currently magnitude 0.3 but will briefly brighten by 0.1 magnitude within a few days. Thought a telescope, its disk spans some 19″, while the rings — one of the most breathtaking sights in the solar system — are nearly 43″ across. Enjoy them while you can, as we’re lining up for a ring plane crossing, when the rings appear edge-on from Earth, in 2025.

Iapetus, which reached greatest western elongation yesterday, still sits 9′ west of the planet. The moon is also currently at its brightest, roughly 10th magnitude. On the other side of Saturn, Titan (magnitude 8.5) is 3′ east of the disk; both properties make it easier to spot, particularly in smaller scopes.

Sunrise: 6:05 AM
Sunset: 8:06 p.m
Moonrise: 5:44 p.m
Moonset: 1:43 AM
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (84%)

Tuesday, August 9
Mars, which started the month close to the distant ice giant Uranus in the sky, moves into Taurus today. Rising shortly after midnight, the Red Planet is visible all morning, with the best views coming in the few hours before sunrise, when it is highest in the east. Glowing at magnitude 0.1, Mars is an easy naked-eye object. To view Uranus, which is magnitude 5.8, sweep binoculars or a telescope just over 5° west of Mars into Aries to search for its blue-gray disk.

This morning, Mars floats 8.5° southwest of the brilliant Pleiades star cluster, a favorite of naked-eye and telescopic observers alike. About 16.5° east of Mars is red-hued Aldebaran, a red giant star that marks the eye of the Bull as he’s drawn on the sky. It sits among — but is not part of — another famous star cluster, the Hyades.

Mars will continue through Taurus during August, following a path that will take it between the Pleiades and Hyades. By contrast, more distant Uranus will remain in roughly the same patch of sky all month, appearing to move much more slowly against the background stars.

Sunrise: 6:06 AM
Sunset: 8:04 PM
Moonrise: 6:47 p.m
Moonset: 2:43 AM
Moon Phase: Waxing gibbous (92%)

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