If you enjoy stargazing, you’ll definitely want to break out your telescope and lawn chairs in August.
In addition to the Blue Moon on August 22, Saturn will be at opposition on August 2 and Jupiter will be at opposition on August 19. When at opposition, Earth will be directly between the planets and the Sun — so they will be their closest and brightest of the year.
During opposition, if the skies are clear and you have a powerful telescope, you should be able to see Saturn’s rings and its largest moon, Titan, NASA explains. For Jupiter, you should be able to see the planet as well as its four bright moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io.
Saturn, which doesn’t have a rocky surface like Earth because it is a gas giant, is the sixth planet from the Sun. It’s also the second-largest planet in our solar system. To put its size in perspective, if you placed nine Earths side by side, they would almost span Saturn’s diameter — not including its rings, NASA explains.
Saturn, of course, is known for its rings, which are made of chunks of ice and rock. Although Saturn isn’t the only planet with rings, it does have what NASA calls “the most spectacular ring system.”
Jupiter, which also is a gas giant, is the fifth planet from the Sun. Jupiter is also the largest planet in the solar system. In fact, it’s more than twice as large as all the other planets in our solar system combined.
Here’s how to put that size in perspective. If Earth were the size of a grape, Jupiter would be the size of a basketball, NASA explains.
While Saturn is known for its rings, Jupiter is known for what appear to be colorful stripes and swirls. Those stripes and swirls are actually windy clouds of ammonia and water floating in Jupiter’s atmosphere of hydrogen and helium.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot that you can clearly see in pictures is actually a giant storm — bigger than Earth — that has been blowing for hundreds of years.
How To View The Planets
Saturn will be in opposition on August 2, at 2:06 p.m. Eastern. Then, Jupiter will be in opposition on August 19, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You can see when Saturn and Jupiter rise, set, and when they pass directly overhead in your local time here.
Even though the planets will be their brightest at opposition, you’ll still want to view them with a telescope because they will resemble stars to the unaided eye. EarthSky explains that you’ll need a telescope magnifying at least 25 times to see that Saturn is oval-shaped rather than circular, and a magnification of at least 100 times to see Saturn’s rings in detail.
Here’s the best part: Although the planets will be in opposition on those dates, there’s no need to wait until then to look for them. You can even start looking for the planets now because they’ll be easy to see in the night sky. What’s more, both planets will gradually appear to shift toward the west for the rest of this year — making them visible earlier in the evening sky. That’ll also make stargazing easier if you have kids or grandkids with earlier bedtimes.
You can find the best times to look for Saturn and Jupiter in your night sky here.
Pro Tip: To get the best views of the planets, you’ll want to be somewhere dark — far away from city lights. A map of dark places for optimal stargazing may be found here.
While you’re making plans to look at Saturn and Jupiter, be sure you also read “The 7 Most Incredible Stargazing Sites In The U.S.” and all of our other stargazing coverage as well, including “NASA Says This Will Be The Best Meteor Shower Of 2021” and “August’s Blue Moon Is Extra Special In This Unique Way.”