Bright nova in Delphinus. The nova discovered in Delphinus last Wednesday brightened to magnitude 4.4 in the next 48 hours. Delphinus is conveniently high in the evening sky. The nova is easy to see in binoculars, and it's visible to the naked eye if you have a dark sky. See Bright Nova in Delphinus, with a finder chart and a link to a continuously updated light curve.
Supernova in M74. Meanwhile, the supernova in the galaxy M74 remains about magnitude 12.6 three weeks after it erupted. See Supernova Still Bright in M74.
Friday, August 16
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Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden deep in the glow of sunrise.
Venus (magnitude –4.0) shines brightly low in the west in evening twilight, far below Arcturus. Look to its left and somewhat higher for much fainter Spica, and further on, Saturn. In a telescope Venus is still small (14 arcseconds) and gibbous (78% sunlit).
Mars and Jupiter shine in the east before and during dawn. Jupiter is the highest and brightest (magnitude –2.0). Look for faint Mars (magnitude +1.6) increasingly far to Jupiter's lower left. Both are in Gemini; Pollux and Castor twinkle to Mars's upper left.
Saturn (magnitude +0.7, on the border between Virgo and Libra) glows in the southwest as twilight fades, with Spica 12° to its lower right and Venus much farther lower right.
Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Pisces) and Neptune (magnitude 7.8, in Aquarius) are both in view toward the southeast by 11 or midnight. Finder charts for Uranus and Neptune.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon including the words up, down, right, and left are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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