The moon will officially become full on Aug. 11 at 9:35 p.m. EDT (0101 GMT), according to timeanddate.com. For New York City observers, the just-past-full moon will rise at 8:18 p.m., while the sun sets at 7:59 p.m. Eastern Time that day. The moon will make a close pass by Saturn that night as well, at 11:55 p.m. EDT.
Full moons are exactly on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun — if you measured the angle across the sky from the sun to the moon it would be 180 degrees. If the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow we see a lunar eclipse, but that doesn’t happen each month because the moon’s orbit is inclined about 5 degrees to the plane of the Earth’s orbit, so the moon often “misses” the shadow (the next eclipse is slated for November 8).
On August 11, just before midnight, the moon will appear close to Saturn, passing within just under 4 degrees of the planet — the moon will appear (from the Northern Hemisphere) to be below Saturn, to its south. The two bodies will be in conjunction, sharing the same celestial longitude. Both will be in Capricorn, a faint constellation that will be washed out by the presence of the moon. Saturn and the Moon will reach a maximum altitude of about 33 degrees by 1:15 a.m. Aug.12, according to In-the-Sky.org.
As one moves south the conjunction will appear higher in the sky; from San Juan, Puerto Rico the conjunction will be about 56 degrees above the horizon at 12:44 a.m. on August 12. In the Southern Hemisphere, the nights are longer (as it is winter there) and the moon will appear correspondingly higher still. From Buenos Aires, the full moon occurs at 10:35 p.m. on August 11, and the conjunction happens at 12:55 a.m. on August 12. The two will hit an altitude of 70 degrees, and Saturn will appear below the moon, as antipodeans are looking at the moon and the ringed planet from the opposite direction as those in the Northern Hemisphere.
Meteor showers: The Perseids
August is the time of the Perseid Meteor shower, which peaks on the 13th. Coming just two days after a full moon, though, means that it will be very difficult to see meteors at all, even from a dark sky site.
The meteor shower gets its name from Perseus, the constellation where the “shooting stars” seem to originate from (technically this is called a radiant). According to the American Meteor Society, the Perseids are active from July through the start of September, so there are many chances to see them, but it’s the period from August 11-13 when we sometimes see 100 meteors in an hour.
On the night of the full moon, Mercury will be an “evening star” in the constellation Leo, setting at 8:53 p.m. local time in New York City. It will be a challenging observing target as at sunset it will only be about 10 degrees high in the southwest. Venus, meanwhile, will be a “morning star” as it rises at 4:29 a.m. on Aug. 12, with the sun rising at 6:03 a.m.
Mars rises just after midnight (12:02 a.m, Aug. 12) and reaches an altitude of about 60 degrees by sunrise; it is in the constellation Taurus, east of Aldebaran. As the planet rises in the northeast it will appear to the right of Aldebaran, which rises at 1:08 a.m.; both have a noticeably reddish color which along with their brightness makes them easy to identify.
Jupiter meanwhile rises at 9:56 p.m. on Aug. 11 in New York and reaches its highest elevations by around 4:00 a.m. Jupiter is in the constellation Cetus, in a region of the sky with few bright stars — the planet will thus stand out even from a light-polluted city.
Although the full moon tends to overwhelm the fainter stars, asterisms such as the Summer Triangle — which consists of the stars Vega, Deneb and Altair — will be prominent and easily spotted, high in the east-southeast. About an hour and a half after sunset in the Northern Hemisphere, you can look nearly straight up to find Vega, which, at mid-northern latitudes, is at an altitude of between 80 and 88 degrees (depending on how far north or south you are in the lower 48 states).
By about 9:30 p.m. local time in mid-northern latitudes, Scorpio is visible in the south-southwest. Scorpio can be spotted by looking for Antares, a bright reddish star that marks the heart of the scorpion. To the left of Scorpio is Sagittarius, with its distinctive teapot shape, and above Scorpio is Ophiuchus, the snake handler and healer.
Ursa Major, the Great Bear, will be in the northwest after sunset and as one follows the “pointers” — the two stars in the front of the Dipper’s bowl — to Polaris, one can keep going and hit the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. Using the handle of the Dipper, one can “Arc to Arcturus” by sweeping along the handle until you hit the eponymous star in Boötes, the herdsman.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the sky is “upside-down” and by 9 p.m. local time on August 11 at the latitude of Cape Town or Melbourne one will see the full moon with Saturn below it and to the left (as one faces south, so East is on your left). Looking due south one will see Alpha Centauri high in the southwest, about 50 degrees in altitude with the Southern Cross below it. Rising in the southeast one can see Achernar, the end of Eridanus the River.
August full moon culture
The full moon of August, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, is sometimes known as the Sturgeon Moon. The name likely came from both colonists and Algonquian-speaking peoples in northeastern North America, as sturgeon are native to both Europe and the Americas.
Not all Native nations in the region used the term. The Ojibwe, whose traditional territory is near the Great Lakes, referred to the eighth full moon of the year as the Blackberry Moon, which could also occur in July. The Cree of Ontario called the August full moon the Flying Up Moon because it was when young birds would fledge. In the Pacific Northwest, the Haida called it the Salmon Moon (“chíin kungáay”), according to Dolly Garza’s book “Tlingit Moon & Tide.”
In China and many surrounding countries, the August full moon marks the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, and strictly speaking, the August full moon falls in the seventh month, Qiǎoyuè, or Skill Month. It is also called Ghost Month. The festival is to honor spirits who were not given proper funerals or offerings when they died. People light paper lanterns and burn paper versions of earthly possessions or (fake) money to honor the departed.
The Māori counted lunar months from new moon to new moon, so the August full moon is halfway through the month of Mahuru, which is towards the latter part of the austral winter. The month is described as “The Earth has now acquired warmth.”
In South Africa, the Zulu call the first full month of the year uNcwaba (the small c marks a clicking sound in Zulu), and the name is derived from describing a man who has made “a new appearance” after a long journey when he washes and anoints himself with fat; in a similar vein the Earth puts on a new appearance in spring.
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