Five bright planets span the night sky from dusk to dawn, Saturn reaches opposition – Delco Times

Sunrise and Sunset Times (Eastern Daylight Time) — Sun rises at 6:00 am and sets at 8:16 pm on Aug. 1st; Sun rises at 6:28 am and sets at 7:36 pm on Aug. 31st.

Moon’s Phases in August — Full “Sturgeon Moon” on Aug. 11th; New Moon on Aug 27th.

Stars and Constellations

As darkness falls on August evenings, the constellations of summer – and also a few left over from spring – begin to emerge from the glow of twilight. Facing north, the Big Dipper, a part of the spring constellation Ursa Major, is dipping into the northwest. The two front stars in the Dipper point to Polaris, the North Star, while the arc of the Dipper’s handle leads to the orange giant star Arcturus, which stands high in the west. Arcturus is only 37 light years away, while most of the stars in the Ursa Major cluster lie at roughly 80 light years from us. But Polaris is 430 light years distant, or over 10 times farther than Arcturus and 5 times farther than the stars comprising the Big Dipper.

Extending above Polaris is the Little Dipper, the most famous asterism within Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. Snaking its way around the Little Dipper is Draco, the Dragon, a large but relatively faint summer constellation. Draco is especially notable because one of its stars, Alpha Draconis, or Thuban (meaning “serpent”), was the polestar some 4,700 years ago, at about the time the Pyramids of Egypt were being built. Thuban is only about one-fifth as bright as Polaris

Facing south, get one last glimpse of the spring star Spica in Virgo as it sets in the southwest. To Spica’s far left is orange-red Antares in Scorpius, which stands low in the south-southwest. The body of the Scorpion snakes down toward the horizon and then upward into a curved stinger. The “cat’s eyes,” a pair of unequally bright stars – Shaula and Lesath – are located at the end of the tail. To the upper left of the cat’s eyes is the “teapot” of Sagittarius, an easy grouping to identify. And the Summer Triangle, which consists of Vega in the constellation Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus, and Altair in Aquila, stands high in the east-northeast.

During the late evening hours, the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia is rising low in the northeast. Also, the Great Square of Pegasus, which consists of four stars in the form of a rectangle lying on its edge, can be seen rising in the east. The ascendence of Cassiopeia and Pegasus above the eastern horizon can only mean one thing: the season of autumn is waiting on our doorstep.

Naked-Eye Planets in the Evening and Morning Sky

Mercury leads the parade of planets across the night sky from dusk to dawn this August; Mercury resembles a bright star quite low in the west about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury’s visibility at dusk improves toward the end of August; it reaches maximum brightness and greatest elongation with the Sun on the 27th.

Saturn is in opposition with the Sun on August 13th, when it reaches peak brightness (since it is at its closest to Earth) and is also visible all night, rising at sundown, standing due south at midnight, and setting at sunrise. Cream-colored Saturn stands out among the faint stars of Capricornus and is clearly brighter than Altair, which lies well above it, but much fainter than Jupiter, which rises a couple of hours later. Even a small telescope will clearly reveal Saturn’s beautiful ring system and its largest moon Titan.

Jupiter resides in the non-zodiac constellation Cetus the Whale just below Pisces’s southern border, and well to the east of its gas giant sibling Saturn, which it follows for 2 hours. Brilliant Jupiter peeks above the eastern horizon a few minutes before 11 pm EDT on August 1st, and by 8:30 pm on the 31st. Jupiter’s turn in opposition with the Sun occurs next month, on September 26th.

Mars continues to steadily brighten it marches toward its closest approach to Earth in December. While Mars is nowhere near as bright as Jupiter (or Venus), it now easily outshines Saturn and rivals the night sky’s brightest luminaries Vega and Arcturus. Mars rises after midnight, at 12:30 am, or nearly 2 hours after Jupiter, at the start of August, and an hour earlier as the month ends. Look for what appears to be a bright, orangish star above the eastern horizon a half-hour after it rises, and high in the south at dawn’s first light.

Venus is the dazzling “morning star” low above the northeastern horizon at dawn. At the start of August, Venus rises just after 4:15 am EDT, which is less than two hours before sunrise. By month’s end, Venus is rising around 5:15 am, or only a little over an hour before sunrise. Venus will pass behind the Sun (upper conjunction) in late October, then gradually reappear at dusk.

Around the night of August 12-13, Earth will pass through the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle, producing the Perseid Meteor Shower. Meteors will appear to radiate from the Perseus constellation, but they can be seen in any part of the sky. Unfortunately, this year the Moon will be one day past the full phase, and so bright moonlight will wash out all but the brightest meteors.

Astronomy Question for August: Why does the North Star always stay in the same position in the sky? (Answer will be provided in next month’s column.)

Answer to Last Month’s Question: The aurora borealis (and the aurora australis in the southern hemisphere) occurs when large bursts of electrically charged particles (electrons, protons) are emitted by the Sun, especially during periods of high sunspot activity. Flowing outward into the solar system, some of these particles get trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field and are funneled down toward the polar regions, where they collide with atmospheric molecules of nitrogen and oxygen, causing them to fluoresce in the typical greenish or reddish glow.

Harry J. Augensen is Emeritus Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Widener University. Astronomical information is obtained from The Astronomical Almanac (2021-2025) by Richard J. Bartlett, and from Astronomical Calendar 2022 by Guy Ottewell, available online at For more information on the night sky, visit the Widener Observatory Stargazing website at A set of free sky maps can be obtained at

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