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:
- Target Planets, Constellations and Leonid Meteors - Nov. 2014 Skywatching Video
- Incredible Auroras Wow Skywatchers In Sweden | Video
Sky Events November 2014
Thursday, Nov. 6, 5:23 p.m. EST
The Full Moon of November is known as the “Beaver Moon” or the “Frosty 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.
Friday, Nov. 14, 10:15 a.m. EST
Last Quarter Moon
The Last Quarter Moon rises around 11:00 p.m. and sets around 1:00 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Saturday, Nov. 22, 7:32 a.m. EST
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, Nov. 29, 5:06 a.m. EST
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around noon and sets around 11:45 p.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Saturday, Nov. 1, dawn
Mercury at greatest elongation west
Mercury will be best placed in the morning sky for the entire year. Look for it low in the eastern sky about half an hour before sunrise.
Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1 p.m. EST
Uranus and the Moon
The nearly full moon will pass just north of the planet Uranus at 1 p.m. By the time it gets dark in eastern North America, the moon will have moved eastward, but will still be close enough to Uranus to make the planet easy to spot. This chart shows the positions of the moon and Uranus at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m. local time
Aldebaran and the Moon
When the moon rises tonight in the northeastern sky around 8 p.m. local time, it will be close to the bright red giant star Aldebaran and the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters.
Monday, Nov. 17, 6 p.m. EST
Leonid meteor shower peaks
The peak of this meteor shower occurs at 6 p.m. E.S.T. when the radiant is below the horizon in North America. The radiant rises in the northeast at midnight local time, but meteors may still be seen. The best meteors are visible about 90 degrees away from the radiant.
Saturday, Nov. 22, 7:32 a.m. EST
On the morning of Nov. 22, six solar system objects will be packed into an area of the sky less that 20 degrees wide. Centered on the sun and the New Moon, the planet Venus and dwarf planet Ceres will be to the east of the sun, and the planets Saturn and Mercury will be to the west of the sun. Unfortunately, the bright sun will make it impossible to see any of these objects except the sun itself.
Mercury will be well placed in the morning sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere for the first half of the month.
Venus is too close to the sun to be observed all month.
Mars is now in Sagittarius, closing in on the sun.
Jupiter now rises in the late evening in the constellation Leo.
Saturn is in conjunction with the sun this month, so cannot be seen.
Uranus is well placed in Pisces in the evening sky. A close approach by the moon on the 4th will make it easy to spot.
Neptune is well placed in the early evening sky in Aquarius, and sets near midnight.
- 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.