This Week’s Sky: August 18 – 25

Planetary pairings adorn the morning and evening skies.

Ron Brecher - M11

The upcoming new Moon ensures fine views of deep-sky treasures like the Wild Duck Cluster, M11. This image of the cluster was captured by Ontario astrophotographer Ron Brecher. (To see more of Ron’s images, visit his web site.)

All Week

Aug21 evening sky

One hour after sunset, facing southwest, on August 21.

The early evening sky sports two planets, both past their prime for telescopic viewing. Mars is less than half the size it was during its April opposition, and is positioned only 15 degrees above the horizon as darkness falls. As the week progresses, the red planet approaches and then passes Saturn. The ringed wonder is a little higher than Mars as twilight fades and can still impress in a telescope, so long as the magnification is kept reasonably low. Both planets set well before midnight.

As the evening show winds down, activity in the predawn sky is starting to pick up. Venus continues to hang in while Jupiter climbs ever higher. Big Jove clears the eastern horizon a little after 4:30 a.m., local daylight time, and Venus pops up a half hour later. Both planets are easy to see, but Venus is much brighter, shining at magnitude –3.9 compared with Jupiter’s magnitude –1.8.

August 19/20

Jupiter and M44

This illustration simulates a view in 10×50 binoculars.

On these mornings, Jupiter will have its closest approach to the Beehive Cluster, otherwise known as M44. You’ll need binoculars to enjoy the show, and it will be fascinating to watch from night to night as the planet gradually passes by the cluster’s swarm of stars.

August 23


The predawn sky, facing northeast, approximately one hour before sunrise.

This morning a razor-thin crescent Moon will join Venus and Jupiter in the predawn sky. The trio should make for a pretty naked-eye sight and a wonderful photo op. If you manage to get a good shot of the conjunction, please send us a copy!

August 24/25

Mars and Saturn are at their closest as the red planet overtakes Saturn. The duo will be separated by just 3.4 degrees and fit comfortably in a binocular field of view. Both planets shine at magnitude 0.6. From this point on, they will drift farther and farther apart.

August 25

The Moon is new this morning at10:13 a.m., EDT.

Weekend Stargazer

Summer new Moons are what deep-sky observers live for — and the August 22 – 24 weekend is about as good as it gets. The nights are significantly longer than during last month’s new-Moon window, and the weather remain relatively mild. Overhead, the glowing band of the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon. There’s so much to see that it can be tough to choose! One area that I find particularly eye-catching is the Scutum Star Cloud.

Seronik-M11 chart

Click on the image for a larger version. Courtesy Gary Seronik

Scutum itself isn’t much of a constellation, which is why it’s easier to think of this region as the tail end of Aquila, the eagle. The Star Cloud is a conspicuous five-degree-wide blob of Milky Way that rewards inspection with binoculars. Situated near its northern edge lies one of the summer sky’s most striking sights: M11, the Wild Duck cluster. It’s an interesting binocular sight for sure, but the cluster really comes into its own in telescope, which has the power to resolve M11 into individual stars. Leading the flock is a magnitude-8 star on the cluster’s southeast edge. Try different magnifications. M11 looks great at low power, set in its rich star field, but it’s also pretty when you pile on the magnification and zoom in. Like many deep-sky targets, each view shows you something a little different.

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