8 Cool Things to See in the Night Sky This Summer
Warm summer nights offer great stargazing conditions; keep an eye out for these celestial must-sees.
Full Sturgeon Moon
Mark your calendars: The biggest full moon of the summer, known as the Full Sturgeon Moon, will be out on August 10. Its name is thought to come from Native American fishing tribes, who could most easily catch the large fish during this time. As this full moon rises, it may appear to have a reddish hue.
Delta Aquarid and Perseids Meteor Showers
The Delta Aquarid meteor shower will be raining down from mid-July to late August near the Aquarius constellation. On a dark night, gazers can watch up to 20 meteors per hour streak across the sky. If you’re in the northeast, catch the Perseids Meteor Shower, which produces up to 60 meteors per hours and will reach its peak on August 13 and 14 after midnight near the constellation Perseus.
Spot specific stars and constellations easily with a printed star chart or an app like The Night Sky; a few of the season’s highlights include the Summer Triangle, a trio of stars directly above that are some of the brightest in the sky. Look for the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion, low in the southern sky with its reddish star, Antares, at its heart. On either side of Scorpius are zodiac constellations Sagittarius, shaped like a teapot, and Libra, which resembles a kite. You can also gaze to the north to see Cassiopeia and Hercules.
Most Visible Planets
Early risers can see Mercury and Venus, the most easily visible planets, low in the eastern sky just before dawn. If you’re not a morning person, the best way to spot a planet is to look out for the constellations in which they appear. In the July evening sky, Saturn is in the Libra constellation, Uranus is in Pisces, and Neptune is in Aquarius; while throughout the month of August Jupiter is visible in Cancer. Not sure something is a planet or a star? Stars appear to twinkle, while planets radiate a more steady glow.
The Milky Way
Escape city lights to see our galaxy, which rises after sunset and will span the sky by midnight. Best viewed during the summer months, this band of dimly glowing clouds contains millions of stars, and almost 2,000 of them are visible with the naked eye on a clear night. When you look at the Milky Way, you’re really seeing the center of our spiral-shaped galaxy from the point of view of one of its outer arms—where our solar system is located.
These groups of hundreds of thousands of closely packed stars look like one large fuzzy star to the naked eye, but when viewed through a telescope, the large mass of glittering stars is a breathtaking sight. M22, which appears near the Sagittarius constellation, is one of the brightest clusters in the sky because it’s relatively close—only about 10,000 light-years away. Another easily seen cluster, M4, lies to the right of the reddish star Antares, part of the Scorpius constellation.
These interstellar clouds of gas and dust emit color depending on the elements present inside. The two easiest ones to find are right next to each other near the Sagittarius constellation: The reddish Lagoon nebula, the larger of the two, which can be seen by the naked eye on a dark night, and the Trifid nebula just above it, which can be most clearly viewed through binoculars.
There is much more to search for in the sky than just stars and planets. Go astronaut-gazing as the International Space Station flies by your hometown; visit spotthestation.nasa.gov to determine when it will be visible near you.