Driftless Dark Skies

John Heasley

The stars come out a little earlier as we drift into August. The sun sets around 8:24 in the Driftless on Aug. 1. That’s 20 minutes earlier than back on the June Solstice. By the end of August, the sun is setting at 7:40, and the sky is fully dark by around 9:20.
The Perseid meteor shower is usually a highlight of August, but this summer’s peak on Aug. 12-13 occurs when the moon is almost full. The moonlight will make it challenging to see the comet dust streaking across the sky. The first week of August might be a better time. There are fewer meteors from the Perseids and other showers, but they should be easier to catch when the waxing crescent moon sets before midnight. Just find a dark spot away from city lights, settle in on your favorite blanket or recliner, and look up with your fellow stargazers.
The second week of August will be excellent for evening moongazing. The first quarter moon is on Aug. 7 when the right half of our neighboring world is illuminated by sunlight while the left half is in darkness awaiting sunrise. You might even spot the two brightest stars of Libra, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, just above and below the moon. Even if you don’t see them, you can still have fun saying them! Zoo-BEN-ess-shah-MAH-lee (the Northern Claw) and Zoo-BEN-el-jeh-NEW-bee (the Southern Claw). On Aug. 8, the waxing gibbous moon makes a pleasing triangle with bright Jupiter to its left and ruddy Antares (the heart of the Scorpion) below. On Aug. 9, the moon has waxed even fuller and appears just above Jupiter. Look for creamy Saturn to the left of the Moon on Aug. 11 and to the right of the moon on Aug. 12.
Aug. 14 and 15 are both good nights to enjoy the full sturgeon moon. On Aug. 14, watch for it rising in the east around 8:02 p.m. just as the sun is setting in the west around 8:07. It’s visible all night before setting in the west around 6 a.m. just before the sun rises in the east around 6:06 a.m. It is 100 percent full at 7:30 a.m., but will be below the horizon by then. There’s a second chance to be awed by the full moon on Aug. 15 when it rises around 8:23 p.m. The sun will have already set by then, so the moon should be even easier to see as night rises in the east. By the last week of August, the waning crescent moon is rising after midnight and the stars will appear to be even more abundant in our evening skies.

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador and with the IAU as a Dark Skies Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwestern Wisconsin, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies above.