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, and use our Satellite Tracker pagepowered by N2YO.com to find out when to see the International Space Station and other satellites. 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).
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 email@example.com.
Sunday, October 9 at 12:33 a.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
At first quarter, the positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see one-half of the moon illuminated by the sun. The moon's bright half is on the western (right-hand) side — toward the setting sun. It rises around noontime and sets around midnight, so the moon is visible half the time by day — in the afternoon hours — and the other half at night, during the evening hours. The name quarter moon, even though it's really a "half-moon" shape, refers to the fact that, starting from new moon, our natural satellite has now completely the first quarter of its orbital journey around Earth.
Sunday, October 16 at 12:23 a.m. EDT
Full Hunter's/Sanguine Moon, a Supermoon, and High Tides
The full moon of October, traditionally called the Hunter's Moon or Blood or Sanguine Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Cetus and Pisces. Since it's opposite the sun on this day of the lunar month, it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. Some think of the full moon in terms of poetry and romance, but it's a bane to stargazers, lighting up the night sky and dimming or hiding all but the brightest stars. This month's full moon occurs only hours before the moon reaches perigee, the point in its orbit closest to earth. As a result, this full moon will appear slightly larger and brighter, sometimes referred to as a supermoon. We'll also experience extra high tides.
Saturday, October 22 at 4:04 p.m. EDT (image - Last Quarter Moon Oct 22.jpg)
Last Quarter Moon
After full phase the moon is now waning, diminishing in illumination every evening. At last quarter the moon rises around midnight and sets near noon. Morning commuters might take note of it, shining high in the south against the blue daytime sky. The bright half is now on the left-hand side, towards the eastern dawning sun. At last quarter, the moon is positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. When you see it in the sky, keep in mind that about 3½ hours later, Earth will occupy that same part of space where the moon is now. After last quarter, the moon begins to traverse the last quarter of its orbit in its trip around the Earth as it approaches new moon.
Sunday, October 30 at 1:38 p.m. EDT
The moon's orbit carries it between the Earth and sun and sits in the same region of the sky where the sun is. Sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon that is turned away from us, so as a consequence it cannot be seen. Starting a day or two after new moon, you might catch a glimpse of the slender sliver of a waxing crescent moon low near the western horizon, as it gradually pulls away from the sun's vicinity and shifts toward the east.
Saturday, October 1 to Wednesday, October 12, before dawn
Early October is the best time in the year to see the dim glow of the zodiacal light in the pre-dawn eastern sky. It appears as a triangular pillar of faint light reflected from millions of interplanetary particles. It lies along the ecliptic (shown in green). Don't confuse it with the Milky Way, further south.
Monday, October 3 – Venus 4 degrees South of the Moon
Young Moon Meets Venus
On Monday, October 3, the young crescent Moon will move to sit only 4 degrees north of (above) the planet Venus. Both objects will be in the daytime sky to the east of the sun. Venus is bright enough to see in daytime. By hiding the Sun behind a building, sharp-eyed observers can use one object to find the other.
Saturday, October 7 – Asteroid Pallas resumes Prograde Motion
Observe Asteroid Pallas
On Saturday, October 7, asteroid Pallas end its retrograde motion in the sky and resumes its eastward prograde motion. In October, it is located high in the southern evening sky west of Pegasus. At apparent magnitude 8.9, it is observable in a small telescope, and its motion through the background stars can be seen by observing it on separate evenings.
Monday, October 11 before dawn
Mercury meets Jupiter
Low in the eastern pre-dawn sky of Monday morning, October 11, 2016, the inner planet Mercury will sit only 0.8 degrees north (to the left) of Jupiter. The best time to catch them is from shortly after 6:30 am local time, when they rise, until they become lost in the dawn's glow before the sun rises at 7 am.
Thursday, October 13 at 2:30 am
Neptune near the Moon and Occultation in E Russia, Alaska, NW Canada
At 2:30 am on Thursday morning, October 13, the waxing gibbous moon will pass within 1.2 degrees to the south (left) of the planet Neptune, situated in the west southwestern sky in the constellation of Aquarius. Observers in portions of eastern Russia, Alaska, and northwestern Canada will see the moon occult the planet. In Anchorage, Alaska, blue Neptune will disappear behind the dark leading limb of the moon at 9:06 pm local time, and re-emerge from the opposite bright limb at 9:58 pm.
Saturday, October 15
Uranus at opposition
Uranus is in opposition on the 15th between the two fishes of Pisces, making it the closet for the year and visible all night. Its location a few degrees above the full moon that evening will be an aid to finding it.
Wednesday, October 19 at 2 am
Aldebaran Occulted by the Moon
In the early hours of Wednesday, October 19th, observers in portions of Mexico, Central America, Southeastern Canada, Eastern USA, and Southern Europe will see the waning gibbous moon occult the bright naked eye star Aldebaran, which marks Taurus the Bull's eye. At approximately 1:45 am EDT the moon's bright leading limb will cover the star, which will emerge from behind the opposite dark limb around 2:50 am (the times vary by latitude). Observers elsewhere will only see the moon pass close to the star.
Friday, October 22 at 1 am
Orionid Meteor Shower peaks
The annual Orionid Meteor shower, derived from material left by repeated passages of Comet Halley, runs from October 4th to November 14th. It peaks after midnight on October 22nd, when the sky overhead is moving directly into the densest region of the particle field. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but will be moving in a direction away from the constellation of Orion.
Friday, October 21 at 1 am
Ceres at Opposition
The dwarf planet Ceres is in opposition on the 21st, in Cetus, making it the closet for the year and visible all night in binoculars and telescopes.
Tuesday, October 25, pre-dawn
The Moon near Regulus
On Tuesday, October 25th, the old crescent moon will sit only a few degrees below the bright naked eye star Regulus in Leo.
Thursday, October 27 at noon
Mercury at Superior Conjunction
At noon on Thursday, October 27, Mercury reaches superior conjunction with the sun, when it crosses the imaginary line connecting the earth and sun. At superior conjunction, a planet is on the far side of the sun.
Friday, October 28
Jupiter close to the Moon
Low in the eastern pre-dawn sky of Oct 28th, the sliver of old crescent moon will sit only about one degree south (to the left) of Jupiter. The pair of objects will be most easily visible between 6 and 7 am local time.
Sunday, October 30
Saturn meets Venus
After sunset on Sunday, October 30, look low in the western sky for bright Venus sitting only 3 degrees to the lower left of dimmer Saturn. The two planets set around 8 pm local time.
As October opens, Mercury is mid-way through an excellent morning apparition for northerners, but has begun its descent towards the dawn glow after reaching greatest western elongation, its maximum angle away from the sun, on September 28. On the first of the month, it will rise in the east about 5:45 am local time and remain be visible until the sky lightens before sunrise. Over the following two weeks, it will increase in brightness, but become progressively harder to see against the bright sky as it drops lower. On the morning of October 11th the bright planet Jupiter will sit only 0.8 degrees to the right of Mercury, but the pair of planets rises in a brightening sky only a half hour before sunrise. For the rest of October, Mercury is invisible as it moves to inferior conjunction with the sun on October 27th.
Venus is low in the western sky in October, but easy to spot in the twilight because of its great brightness. Throughout the month, Venus sets an hour after the sun. Look for the planet at least 30 degrees (three fist diameters) south of where the sun sets. Venus is in the early stage of a long evening apparition that will last until next spring. On Monday, October 3rd, the young crescent Moon will sit only 4 degrees north of (above) Venus.
During the month of October, Mars fades in brightness as we increase our distance from it. But it will remain an easily visible bright red object in the evening southwestern sky. As the sky is carried west by our motion around the sun, Mars stays in place as by moving eastward through Sagittarius. On October 7th, the waxing crescent moon will sit 8 degrees to the upper right of Mars.
After its conjunction with the sun on September 26, Jupiter returns as a morning object in October. It starts the month low in the eastern pre-dawn sky, and then climbs away from the sun all month. On the morning of October 11th, Jupiter will sit only 0.8 degrees to the right of Mercury, but the pair of planets rises in a brightening sky only a half an hour before sunrise. Low in the eastern pre-dawn sky of Oct 28th, the sliver of old crescent moon will sit only about one degree south (to the left) of Jupiter. The pair of objects will be most easily visible between 6 and 7 am local time.
During October, Saturn is the modestly bright yellowish object visible in the southwestern sky after sunset, above the stars of Scorpius. The ringed planet sets just before 10 p.m. in early October, but by 8 p.m. at month's end. On October 5th, the waxing crescent moon will sit about 5 degrees to the right of Saturn. The following evening, the moon jumps to sit 8 degrees to Saturn's upper left. Even a modest backyard telescope will reveal the planet's rings, and perhaps some of the larger moons, too.
Uranus is in the eastern evening sky in the constellation Pisces during October. Uranus reaches opposition on the 15th, making it the closet for the year and an all night target. At magnitude 5.7, it is not readily visible with unaided eyes, but binoculars or a small telescope can reveal its tiny blue-green dot. If you compare its position with the surrounding stars, you'll notice that it is moving retrograde, or westward, a trick of parallax caused by earth's faster motion around the sun.
Neptune, in the constellation Aquarius, is a very dim, nearly 8th-magnitude object visible only with very good binoculars or a telescope. Recently past opposition, it is visible all night long and moving retrograde, or westward, a trick of parallax caused by earth's faster motion around the sun.
- 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.