Discover the night sky

in August

Also find out how
you can be a
citizen scientist

... What's in the sky | at a glance
Milky Way arches overhead from South to North, Saturn is back in 2023, Scorpius and Sagittarius are ripe for observing and then there's the rest of the amazing August night sky to catch up to.

Explore some stellar topics this month: A Comprehensive Table of Contents

As you learn more about the night sky, why don’t you

Join a Globe at Night survey as a citizen scientist

Globe at Night is a citizen science programme where people measure the darkness of the night sky. 

A study conducted by researchers from the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the US National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, dubbed the “Globe at Night” Citizen Science Project, included 50,000 naked eye night sky observations made by volunteers between 2011 and 2022.

It revealed that satellite measurements misreported the amount of existing light pollution: (1) by missing the horizontal light  – such as light from advertising or billboards. (2) because current satellites measuring it are less sensitive to blue light.

Just like the 50,000 citizen scientists participating in the study, you can help for the 2023 round. This is also a great opportunity to know your night sky. 

At Star Safari, we encourage all our visitors to become a citizen scientist and help Globe at Night figure out how much energy we, humans, waste, illuminating the skies at night. Nestled within the world’s 21st Dark Sky Reserve in Wairarapa, Star Safari isn’t just a destination—it’s a movement. 

Through Spaceward Bound New Zealand, we provide educational programmes for schools that explain the effects of light pollution to students and teachers. We also include Globe at Night. 

Also check out Look After Our Night Sky exhibition we created to support the announcement for the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve. 🌟🌌🔭

All you need to do is count the number of stars on your street (or any place you like really) and report it anonymously to Globe at Night.

Below are a couple of articles you can read about Globe at night

Globe at night

What’s Globe at Night looking at this month:

Scorpius and Sagittarius

The measurements taken for the Globe at Night must be done on a moonless night. This is why Globe at Night recommends they are done around the New Moon.

Plan your stargazing

It might sound silly because everyone knows that stargazing is done outside, at night and if is not cloudy but you would be surprised how much planning goes into it.

First, the sky is genuinely dark when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. This is what is called night. For astrophotography, you wish to have a sky as dark as possible. 


Twilight is the period between sunset and night. During that time, we indirectly see scattered light from the Sun after it sets.

For a successful stargazing night, you must know your sunset and sunrise times and the phase of the Moon,
And, of course, your targets for the night, that is, what are you planning to look at?

Favourite astronomy / space apps

SkySafari 7 Pro

A Review of SkySafari 7 Pro

The app we use to navigate around the night sky is SkySafari 7 Pro. Developed by Simulation Curriculum Corp, this app is a great way to learn about stars, planets and deep sky objects.

Read More »

What's in the sky

The Milky Way

By definition, the Milky Way is the sum of 150 billion stars, so bright that from Earth we can see them as a continuous band of light. Some of these stars we can resolve (stargazer’s slang for distinguish) with our eye, some other with binoculars and telescopes. 

The Milky Way is so striking here in New Zealand that everyone should find directions by it. By the way, the Pole Star is overrated (you would know if you ever spent lots of time trying to find it). On top of that, is not even visible from New Zealand. So, if you need directions here, just follow the Milky Way. It will lead you to the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross is in the Milky Way. A few more steps and you will know precisely where the south is.

In August, we admire the centre of the Milky Way, crossing Zenith at about 8 PM, which means that if you’re not a late-nighter, you can just come straight from work and do astronomy starting from 6 PM. That’s fantastic! When it’s at its highest, the Milky Way stretches here from North to South through Zenith. It’s like a surf of stars in the sky. The top of the wave is the centre of the Galaxy. This is happening right now, so you better find yourselves some dark skies. Look straight up and prepare to be amazed! Here in the southern hemisphere, we have a different perspective. The south celestial pole is leaning towards the centre of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, which we are all used to being described as a river. We are challenging that. Here, in the winter months, the Milky Way is like the surf of an ocean. And yes, in the northern hemisphere, the Milky Way looks like a river because Earth’s axis leans towards the edge of the Galaxy. And the best you can get for our Galaxy there is a resemblance to a river in the sky. When it is at its highest, in the Northern Hemisphere wintertime, we look towards Orion and the edge of our galactic neighbourhood. At the intersection of Scorpius and Sagittarius, its centre doesn’t climb more than 30-40 degrees above the horizon. Northern Hemispherian observers can’t see all that galactic bulge at once. Many ancient references call the Milky Way a river. Latins called it via lacteea – the milky way – literally. So next time you visit the southern hemisphere, or if you are already here, take a moment and pay attention to the Milky Way. Follow it south to bump into the Southern Cross in the wake of the Milky Way. Follow it north, and you will see Altair and Vega near the horizon, distant harbingers of the North.

Stars of highest apparent magnitude

This is the correct way of saying brightest stars as viewed from Earth.

Just because a star is bright, it doesn’t mean is also close.

Starting from the centre of the Galaxy, going North is Shaula, the stinger of Scorpius, then Kaus Australis and Nunki in Sagittarius, a beautiful cute star Ionnina in Scutum, then Altair in Aquila and the beautiful open cluster Coathanger in Vulpecula, Albireo and Vega. Even though the last three objects are very close to the horizon in Wairarapa, we still get a glimpse of them, which is fantastic.
The ecliptic marks the plane of our solar system, bearing the zodiacal constellations. The ecliptic is “a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the Sun’s apparent path during the year, so-called because lunar and solar eclipses can only occur when the moon crosses it. As seen from Wairarapa, the ecliptic runs through the northern part of the sky. In Europe, we see the Sun in the southern part of the sky. That’s why everyone here looks for houses that face north. Very close to the ecliptic are Spica in Virgo, Zubenelgenubi in Libra, Antares in Scorpius and Algedi Prima, Algedi Secunda, Dabih Major and Minor and Deneb Algiedi in Capricorn. The ecliptic intersects the Milky Way in Scorpius and Sagittarius.

Alpha and Omega

A great example of the deceiving way in which things appear to the unaided eye at night.

Astronomers designated “alpha” to name the brightest stars in a constellation and “omega” the dimmest. 

Here is an example of Alpha Centauri (photo by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope) and Omega Centauri (photo by Sam @spacesamuel)

Alpha and Omega also means the beginning and the end, a very powerful symbol. 

We love keeping an eye on these two objects. From Star Safari, Wairarapa, NZ they are circumpolar and so they are always in the sky. 

Circumpolar Stars

Stars of the circumpolar region never set never rise, they move around in a circle in 23 hours and 56 minutes. 

Because of that, they are at different heights in the sky at different times of the night or of the year if you look at them just after sunset. 

The Milky Way traverses a section of the circumpolar region. 

Other asterism are The Fish in the Frying Pan, The Diamond Cross, the False Cross. 

Canopus and Achernar are also circumpolar stars as seen from New Zealand and so are the Magellanic Clouds, our pet galaxies. 

The Moon

The Moon is the enemy of the Milky Way, and faint objects observing. It casts so much light that dim, deep sky objects wash out in the Moonlight. The Moon is like a giant reflector, reflecting light from the Sun. And yet, according to NASA, the Moon has a very low albedo: 0.07. Albedo is the amount of light reflected by an object compared to the light it receives. So the Moon only reflects 0.07% of the light it receives from the Sun, yet it is so bright!

Remember to always check out the Moon when you plan your stargazing.

This can be particularly disappointing if you plan to photograph the night sky.

Moon Facts 101

The Moon is actually as dark as the side of your car’s tyres.

Pretty crazy thing to think about. The Moon’s albedo, close to 0.1, it means it reflects only 10% of the light that it receives. Here is a great explanation of the albedo by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The Sun this month

As August unfurls, watch how the Sun waking everyone up earlier and earlier! At the start of the month, it appears over the horizon around 7:30AM, and by month’s end, almost 40 minutes earlier. Likewise, while it dissapears at 5:30PM initially, it lingers a bit longer, taking an extra half-hour before bowing out by the 31st.

As August unfurls, watch how the Sun waking everyone up earlier and earlier! At the start of the month, it appears over the horizon around 7:30AM, and by month’s end, almost 40 minutes earlier. Likewise, while it dissapears at 5:30PM initially, it lingers a bit longer, taking an extra half-hour before bowing out by the 31st.

The Sun this year is far from being boring. In the last week of July we counted 19 sunspots on its surface during a routine observing session. That’s 19 more than we saw for years. So if you’re into solar observing now is the time. Get your solar telescope, join an astronomical society or visit us at Star Safari during school holidays.

In August, the Sun first transits the zodiacal constellations of Cancer, then moves into Leo on the 11th of August, which stays until the 17th of September. The zodiacal constellations are those stars visible behind the plane of our Solar System, about 8 degrees on each side of the ecliptic. Remember, one degree is the width of your pinky at arm’s length. They form a band called the Zodiacal Band in the sky.

Since the Sun is now transiting Cancer and Leo, we cannot see the stars in these constellations. They are behind the glare of the Sun. We should remind everyone that it’s dangerous to look into the Sun. Of course, if you have a solar telescope designed to look at the Sun and is well-maintained, then you can look at the Sun.
The Sun in Leo means only one thing: Aquarius is opposite the Sun (180 degrees on the other side of the zodiacal band). Aquarius will rise just after sunset and be visible all night long.

Come stargazing with us in Wairarapa

Main objects to watch this month

August is a fabulous month as the centre of the galaxy, our own Milky Way climbs all the way up to Zenith and there are so many objects in there to admire. If you’re from anywhere in the upper parts of the Northern Hemisphere, take advantage of the sight. Only at the southern latitudes the centre of the galaxy climbs up so high, which means only from here you can see really good quality celestial objects!

Another advantage for us here are the long nights of winter where you can gaze at the stars a long time!

So what’s the most beautiful sight in the evening sky?

1. By far, The Milky Way: The band of the Milky Way stretches across the night sky from south to north, offering a breathtaking view of our home galaxy. The core of the Milky Way is overhead, brimming with dense cluster of stars, nebulae, and dark dust lanes.

2. Planets:

  • Saturn: Saturn is back in 2023, visible in the evening skies, shining brightly (and offering spectacular views through a telescope). If you have never seen the rings of Saturn, now is the time.

3. Asterisms (these are the dot-to-dot imaginary objects we think we can make with the stars):

  • Centaurus: Dominating the southern sky, Centaurus hosts Alpha Centauri, our closest star system, and the beautiful Omega Centauri, the brightest globular cluster visible from Earth. Together they form the famous asterism of the Fish in the Frying Pan.
  • Scorpius and Sagittarius: These are both asterisms and constellations, rich in deep sky objects. We always look for the red supergiant star Antares in Scorpius and the famed Lagoon and Trifid nebulae in Sagittarius (and many other spectacular objects). Here in Aotearoa, Scorpius (we don’t have scorpions) is Te Matau A Maui – the fishhook of Maui, that drags our galaxy down from the sky.
  • Southern Cross (Crux): This iconic constellation-asterism remains prominent, is one of our favourite targets and just beneath it, you can spot the dark Coalsack Nebula, a stark contrast against the Milky Way’s brilliance. Many interpretations have been given to this dark patch, including here in Aotearoa being called The Flounder or Te Patiki.

4. The Magellanic Clouds: Our two nearest irregular galaxy neighbors, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, are visible as faint, cloudy patches incredibly beautiful and bright from our site at Star Safari Observatory. These galaxies are rich in star formation and are home to many young star clusters and nebulae. We love Tarantula Nebula and 47 Tucanae, which are really easy objects to find but there are so many more to see.

5. Meteors and Meteor Showers: We always get asked about the Perseid meteor shower, it is really not worth getting upset about it, we simply don’t have the opportunity to see it well here. We mean, the best you can do is possibly catching a few Perseids close to the northern horizon if you are lucky not to look into light pollution. However, during a good observing night, from Star Safari Observatory you will see at least a few meteors blazing the night sky. And as we are connected to the Fireballs New Zealand check out their page.

6. Nebulae and Star Clusters: The Carina Nebula, a vast region of star formation, Jewel of the Southern Skies, is one of our absolute favourite targets, with its intricate patterns of gas and dust. It really looks like an eye with a brow. Meanwhile, the open star clusters of the Southern Pleiades (IC 2602) and the Jewel Box (NGC 4755) offer dazzling sights through our very large telescopes and amazing eyepieces.

All you need to do, is visit us at Star Safari, catch a meteor and make a wish.

A wee table for those who like lots of detail

This table gives you by default what’s in the sky for the dates that you are browsing. If you wish to look at a different month, use the arrows to change the month. 

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Why is the month of August named August

In the history section, we look at Augustus, a prominent figure in ancient Rome who was known as the “first citizen.” During ancient times in Rome, the name August was synonymous with respect and awe-inspiring qualities. July is named after Julius Caesar, a Roman military genius, while August is named after Julius Caesar’s grand-nephew Augustus, later adopted by him. Augustus became the first Roman emperor after the Republic was destroyed by his great-uncle, who declared himself a dictator. Augustus referred to himself as the first citizen, and the sixth month of the Roman calendar, Sextilis, was renamed after him. The Roman Senate decided that August and July should have 31 days due to the equal prestige of both leaders. In the picture, we can see a statue of Emperor Augustus against a backdrop created with Starry Night Pro 8, depicting the night sky in August. It’s interesting to note that Julius Caesar and Octavian Augustus are the only Roman leaders whose names have remained in our calendar for over two thousand years.

Stargaze with us from Wairarapa

If you are in Wairarapa, come stargazing with us.

Wairarapa is now an official Dark Sky Reserve – find out more in our Look after our night sky exhibition here.

We have the best telescope equipment for public viewing on the North Island, with the most extensive range of powerful telescopes for stargazing. And, of course, we have hot chocolate.

Experience astronomy and space in virtual reality VR when the sky is cloudy.

When we are not doing stargazing with the public or with our own telescopes, we turn to SLOOH to explore the Universe. If you are really passionate about astronomy, want to learn more or just expand your knowledge, SLOOH is the next level. See you there, make sure you join the Star Safari club and say hi. 

Learn astronomy online

What is SLOOH?

Patented technology to explore space.  Robotic, mountaintop, online telescopes, live 18+ hours per day.

Curated journey of discovery. Space is a vast wilderness and Slooh is like a national park, with trails and guides. 

Communal exploration of the Universe. Learn from fellow members using the telescopes.