Summer is the best time of year for seeing the Milky Way from the northern hemisphere—and parts of August are the very best.

We’re just coming up on August’s “Milky Way” window, arguably the best 10 days of the year for viewing our galaxy. 

So clear your diary this weekend and get outside to as dark a site as possible to see your home galaxy in all of its glory.

When in August is the Milky Way visible?

Every single star you can see is part of the Milky Way, but we’re talking here about seeing the densest part—that diffuse, “milky” glow of billions of stars.

Visibility is all about light pollution:

  • You must be away from urban light pollution to see the Milky Way
  • You also need to be stargazing while the Moon is down.

Our satellite is the biggest light-polluter of all—way worse than artificial lights.

The “Milky Way window” in August, therefore, is when the night skies are free from bright moonlight.

That’s always going to be between Last Quarter Moon and a few days after New Moon. Depending on where you are on the planet the Moon rises around 45 minutes later (but do check the times for where you will observe from).

Phases of the Moon in August 2020

  • Full Moon: August 3 (rises around midnight)
  • Last Quarter: August 11 (rises around midnight)
  • New Moon: August 18 (completely Moon-free night skies)
  • First Quarter: August 25 (is already bright in the sky at darkness falls)

That makes August 11 through August 20, 2020 the best time to look for the Milky Way in August 2020. 

What time of night is the Milky Way visible?

This is the real beauty of going looking for the Milky Way during August because it’s visible right after dark.

Although it can be seen from May through October, it’s not always ideally positioned; in May you have to wait for just before dawn, in June you can watch it rise in the east, in July and August it’s “up” after dark, by September you can watch it sinking in the west shortly after dusk. 

In mid-August the Milky Way is visible at 10 p.m. from mid-northern latitudes, and is acting overhead by midnight to coincide with true darkness. It’s the perfect time to see it. 

How to find the Milky Way

  • Wait until it gets dark.
  • Let your eyes adjust to the darkness (by not looking at a phone for 20 minutes).
  • Look south.

That’s it!

If you need a few visual helpers—which you may do if you’re not in an absolutely dark place free from light pollution—look for Jupiter and Saturn.

You can’t miss Jupiter—it’s shining super-bright in the south right after dark, with Saturn slightly to its east.

The Milky Way should be visible the other side of Jupiter in the southern sky. 

However, it’s really important that you get to as dark as place as possible.

Why the southern hemisphere is the best place to see the Milky Way

The densest part of the Milky Way—its center—is in the constellation of Sagittarius. From mid-northern latitudes it’s tricky to really appreciate Sagittarius since it’s mostly in the haze of the horizon.

That makes it susceptible even to distant light pollution, too. However, from equatorial regions, and from the southern hemisphere, Sagittarius gets higher in the sky. 

But that’s not your concern right now—just get yourself to a dark sky site between August 11 and August 20, 2020 for a great chance to see the Milky Way in all of its glory.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.