The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. You can also use astronomy accessories to make your observing easier. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).
Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.
Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org. [Related: 10 Must-See Stargazing Events to Look Up for in 2015]
Night Sky Photos:
Thursday, Aug. 6, 10:03 p.m. EDT
Last Quarter Moon
The Last Quarter Moon rises around midnight and sets around 3 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Friday, Aug. 14, 10:53 a.m. EDT
The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after New Moon.
Saturday, Aug. 22, 3:31 p.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around noon and sets around midnight. It dominates the evening sky.
Saturday, Aug. 29, 2:35 p.m. EDT
The August Full Moon is known as the Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Red Moon, Green Corn Moon, or Grain Moon. It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.
Uranus and the Moon
Wednesday/Thursday, Aug. 5/6, dawn
The moon will be close to Uranus just before sunrise. In southern South America, the Falkland Islands, and parts of Antarctica, the moon will actually occult Uranus.
Mercury and Jupiter within 0.6 degrees
Thursday, Aug. 6, dusk
Mercury and Jupiter will pass close to each other, appearing within the same telescope field.
Mercury, Jupiter and Regulus within 1 degree
Friday, Aug. 7, dusk
These three bright objects will form a tight triangular pattern low in the western sky after sunset.
Aldebaran and the Moon
Saturday, Aug. 8, early morning
The waning crescent moon will pass close to the bright red star Aldebaran low in morning twilight. The moon will occult Aldebaran as seen from the Middle East, eastern Europe, northwestern Asia, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and northwestern Canada.
Jupiter and Regulus within 0.5 degrees
Monday, Aug. 10, dusk
Jupiter will pass just north of the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo.
Perseid meteor shower peaks
Thursday, Aug. 13, 2 a.m.
The Perseid meteor shower is always the most reliable in the year, and this year benefits from having the moon out of the sky for most of the night. Although Perseid meteors can be seen at any time of night, there are always more meteors after midnight because then the Earth is heading directly into the shower. Although they appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky, they can be seen anywhere in the sky.
Mars in the Beehive
Thursday, Aug. 20, before dawn
Mars, just past conjunction with the sun, passes in front of the Beehive Cluster, Messier 44.
Moon close to perigee
Saturday, Aug. 29, 8 p.m. local time
The moon will be closest to the Earth at 11 a.m. on Aug. 30, 222,631 miles or 358,290 km. distant. The moon will be below the horizon at that time for observers in North America. The best time to observe this “supermoon” will be just after it rises on Saturday night, Aug. 29. Those living near the ocean should expect higher tides than normal for the next few days.
Mercury is visible low in the western sky after sunset for most of the month, This apparition is more favorable for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.
Venus moves from the evening to the morning sky on the 15th, but will be hard to observe for northern observers because of its closeness to the sun. Southern observers will have an easier time, and on the 15th may actually be able to observe Venus as a morning star in the east and an evening star in the west.
Mars reappears in dawn twilight after its conjunction with the sun on June 14.
Jupiter is too close to the sun to observe this month.
Saturn is well placed in Libra in the evening sky.
Uranus rises in the late evening in Pisces.
Neptune rises in the mid-evening in the constellation Aquarius.
- Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
- Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
- Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
- Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
- Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.
Night Sky Observing Tips
- Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
- Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
- Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
- Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.