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. 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 email@example.com.
Night Sky Photos:
- 100 Most Spectacular Night Sky Photos of 2013
Sky Events September 2014
Tuesday, Sept. 2, 7:11 a.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 2:30 p.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Monday, Sept. 8, 9:38 p.m. EDT
The Full Moon of September is known as the Harvest Moon because it is the Full Moon closest to the autumn equinox on September 22; it is also sometimes known as the Full Corn 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.
Monday, Sept. 15, 10:05 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.
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2:14 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.
Wednesday, Sept. 10, 10 p.m. EDT
Uranus and the Moon
The waning gibbous moon passes just north of Uranus in the constellation Pisces. The moon will occult Uranus as seen from eastern Canada, Greenland, and northern Siberia. Seen here from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Sunday, Sept. 14, after midnight
Aldebaran and the Moon
The waning last quarter moon will pass just north of the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus.
Sunday, Sept. 21, early evening
Mercury close to Spica
The planet Mercury will pass close to the bright star Spica in Virgo. This is a particularly good apparition of Mercury for observers in the Southern Hemisphere, less so for northerners.
Monday, Sept. 22, 10:29 p.m. EDT
The sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward. Day and Night are of equal length. The sun rises due east and sets due west everywhere on Earth. This is the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox (Spring) in the Southern Hemisphere.
Saturday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m. EDT
Ceres and the Moon
The moon passes just south of the dwarf planet Ceres in the constellation Libra.
Sunday, Sept. 28, midnight EDT
Saturn and the Moon
The moon passes just north of the Saturn in the constellation Libra.
Sunday, Sept. 28, 11 a.m. EDT
Vesta and the Moon
The moon passes just south of the asteroid Vesta in the constellation Libra.
Monday, Sept. 29
Double shadow transit on Jupiter
The shadows of Europa and Callisto cross the face of Jupiter simultaneously, best seen from India and central Asia. Seen here from New Delhi.
Mercury will be in its best evening apparition of 2014 for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. Northern observers will have more difficulty seeing it.
Venus is low in the eastern sky, rising just before the sun.
Mars is now fading rapidly in brightness as it moves towards the far side of the sun.
Jupiter is low in the morning sky in the constellation Cancer.
Saturn, in Libra, is low in the WSW evening twilight sky, setting in mid evening.
Uranus is rising in mid-evening in the constellation Pisces, heading towards opposition on October 7.
Neptune was in opposition on the August 29th in Aquarius, so is visible all night long.
- 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.