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 page powered 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).
Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Chris Vaughan 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 email@example.com.
Sky Maps and Video Guides
Best Night Sky Events of April 2017 (Stargazing Maps)
See what's up in the night sky for March 2017, including stargazing events and the moon's phases, in this Space.com gallery courtesy of Starry Night Software.
Jupiter at Opposition and the Lyrid Meteor Shower in April 2017 | Video
Jupiter will shine bright and appear large on April 7 as it reaches opposition. The moon will be nearly in its New moon phases during the peak of the Lyrid meteor showers making skywatching conditions optimal.
April 2017 Skywatching: Planets, Constellations & Lyrid Meteor Shower | Video
See Saturn and Venus in the early morning hours. Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are the evening planets. The Ursa Major constellation is a great target this month. On April 22, the Lyrid Meteor Shower will peak.
Monday, April 3 at 2:39 p.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 lit 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 our natural satellite has now completely the first quarter of its orbital journey around Earth since the last new moon.
Tuesday, April 11 at 2:08 a.m. EDT - Full Seed Moon
The April full moon, known as the Seed Moon, Pink Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, or Fish Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Virgo. 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.
Wednesday, April 19 at 5:57 a.m. EDT - Last Quarter Moon
Last quarter moons rise around midnight, and morning commuters often spot it in the southern daytime sky. It's illuminated 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. About 3½ hours later, earth will occupy that same point in space. After last quarter, the moon wanes while traversing the last quarter of its orbit around the earth as it approaches new moon.
Wednesday, April 26 at 8:16 a.m. EDT - New Moon
At new moon, the moon's orbit carries it between the earth and sun - 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 it cannot be seen. The moon's 5 degree tilted orbit usually carries it above or below the sun, but solar eclipses occur when the moon is close to the ecliptic at new moon. 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, April 1 after sunset - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
After dusk on Saturday, April 1 Mercury will reach its greatest angle east of the sun. It will be observable low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset. This is the best apparition for the year for mid-northern latitude observers.
Friday, April 7 evening – Moon meets Regulus
Overnight on Friday, April 7, the orbital motion of the waxing gibbous moon will bring it close to the bright star Regulus in Leo. Minimum separation occurs about 1 am EDT. Observers from New Zealand to southern Argentina will see the moon occult the star.
Friday, Apr 7 evening - Jupiter at Opposition
On Friday, April 7 at 11:24 p.m. EDT, Jupiter will be exactly opposite the sun in the sky, and is visible all night long. The planet's disk is the brightest and largest for the year. Around opposition, Jupiter and its four large satellites frequently eclipse and occult one another, and the moons cast round black shadows on the planet, such as this event on Apr 9 at 8:30 pm EDT.
Monday, April 10 all night – Moon meets Jupiter and Spica
On Monday, April 10, Jupiter, the full moon, and the bright star Spica will rise together in the eastern sky about 7:30 pm local time. The trio of objects will fit within a binocular field of view and make a nice photo opportunity. They will cross the night sky together and be visible low in the southwestern sky before sunrise.
Sunday, April 16 pre-dawn – Moon meets Saturn
Between midnight and dawn on Sunday, April 16, the waning gibbous moon will sit about 5 degrees to the upper right of Saturn, both fitting within a binocular field of view and making a nice photo opportunity. Just before dawn breaks they will be visible low in the southwestern sky. The following morning, the moon will jump to Saturn's left.
Thursday, Apr 20 early evening – Mars passes the Pleiades
On the evenings surrounding April 20, Mars will pass the Pleiades cluster, which will sit less than four degrees to the upper right of the planet. After the sky darkens, they should be visible together within your binoculars’ field of view.
Sat, Apr 22 pre-dawn - Lyrid meteors peak
The annual Lyrids meteor shower runs from April 16 to 25 and peaks before dawn on Saturday, April 22. The old moon should not spoil the show, which can produce up to 18 meteors per hour. Watch for occasional fireballs.
Sunday, April 23 pre-dawn – Moon and Venus
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Sunday, April 23, Venus and the old crescent moon will rise together. The moon will be about 8 degrees to the lower right of the bright planet.
Sun, Apr 30 pre-dawn - Venus Reaches Maximum Brightness
Venus reaches its maximum brightness (visual magnitude -4.53) in the eastern pre-dawn sky. This morning apparition is poor for northern hemisphere observers, but excellent for southerners.
As April opens, Mercury, positioned above a nearly vertical ecliptic in the western evening sky, is displaying its best apparition for the year for mid-northern latitude observers. On Saturday, April 1 it reaches greatest eastern elongation, making it observable for about an hour after sunset. A telescope will reveal its crescent phase and growing disk size. The planet can be observed for about another week while it fades in brightness and drops sunward. After inferior conjunction with the sun on April 20, it commences a poor morning apparition for northerners, rising in the east just before the sun.
During April,Venus shines brightly in the eastern pre-dawn sky amid the stars of western Pisces. The planet's disk will appear as a thin crescent that waxes fuller through the month while shrinking in apparent diameter. It reaches a maximum brightness of magnitude -4.53 on April 30. Due to a shallow morning ecliptic, Venus will not climb very high above the horizon before the sun rises. In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Sunday, April 23, the old crescent moon will be about 8 degrees to the lower right of the bright planet.
Reddish Mars remains in the western early evening sky all month, moving from Aries into Taurus on April 12. It continues to drop in brightness and disk size as we pull farther away from it. On the evenings surrounding April 20, Mars will sit within four degrees of the Pleiades star cluster. After the sky darkens, they should be visible together within your binoculars' field of view. On April 27 and 28, the young crescent moon will sit 8 degrees below Mars – and then 10 degrees above the planet on the following evening.
Very bright Jupiter moves retrograde through the body of Virgo all month, remaining 6-10 degrees above that constellation's brightest star Spica. It reaches opposition on April 7, the day of the year when we are closest to it, a mere 37 light-minutes (4.5 AU) away. On that evening, it will rise as the sun sets, shine at maximum brightness, and its disk diameter will peak at 44 arc-seconds. On April 10, the full moon will join Jupiter and the bright star Spica - rising together in the eastern sky about 7:30 pm local time. The trio of objects will fit within a binocular field of view and make a nice photo opportunity.
Yellowish Saturn spends April near the Milky Way, moving retrograde among the stars of Sagittarius. All month long, it rises in the east after midnight and can be spotted low in the southern sky until just before dawn. Between midnight and dawn on April 16, the waning gibbous moon will sit about 5 degrees to the upper right of Saturn, and jump to sit 7 degrees to the planet’s right the following morning.
Reaching solar conjunction on April 14, Uranus is too close to the sun to observable during April.
Neptune is very low in the eastern pre-dawn sky during April,in the constellation of Aquarius. It's not easily observable from mid-northern latitudes until the latter part of the month when it rises about 4 am local time.
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, while a finger covers about one degree.
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.