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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Night Sky Photos:
- Best Skywatching Events of October 2014: Sky Maps (Gallery)
- 100 Most Spectacular Night Sky Photos of 2013
- Two Eclipses + Mars Meets A Comet | October 2014 Skywatching Video
Sky Events October 2014
Wednesday, Oct. 1, 3:33 p.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 2:15 p.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky. This is the first of two First Quarter Moons this month.
Wednesday, Oct. 8, 5:51 a.m. EDT
The Full Moon of October is known as the Hunter’s Moon because it is the Full Moon following the Harvest Moon; it is also sometimes known as the "Blood Moon" or "Sanguine 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.
Wednesday, Oct. 15, 3:12 p.m. EDT
Last Quarter Moon
The Last Quarter Moon rises around 11:30 p.m. and sets around 2:15 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Thursday, Oct. 23, 5:57 p.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.
Thursday, Oct. 30, 10:48 p.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 1:45 p.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky. This is the second of two First Quarter Moons this month.
Tuesday, Oct. 7, 5 p.m. EDT
Uranus at opposition
The planet Uranus reaches opposition, located exactly opposite the sun in the sky. It is visible all night. You can locate it by projecting a diagonal of the Square of Pegasus to two stars in Pisces just north of Uranus.
Wednesday, Oct. 8, early morning
Total eclipse of the moon
This eclipse is visible over much of the world, except for Europe and Africa. It occurs in the early morning in the Americas, and in the early evening in Asia and Australia. As shown here, the moon enters the umbra, the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, at 5:15 a.m. EDT. Greatest eclipse will be at 6:55 a.m. EDT.
Wednesday, Oct. 8, 7 a.m. EDT
Moon in conjunction with Uranus
In the middle of tonight’s lunar eclipse, the moon will be just north of the planet Uranus. Use the eclipsed moon to locate Uranus with binoculars.
Sunday, Oct. 12, 6 a.m. EDT
Moon in conjunction with Aldebaran
The moon will pass just to the north of the bright red giant star Aldebaran, located in the Hyades star cluster.
Thursday, Oct. 23, afternoon
Partial eclipse of the sun
This partial solar eclipse will be visible in most of North America and eastern Siberia. The sun will be covered to the greatest extent at sunset from the Canadian arctic to the American Midwest. It is shown here as seen from Yellowknife NWT. Partial solar eclipses are particularly dangerous if viewed without adequate protection, so use a special solar filter ("eclipse glasses") to look at it.
Saturday, Oct. 25, evening
Saturn and the Moon
The moon passes just north of Saturn in the constellation Libra. Viewers in central Europe will see the moon occult Saturn, as shown here from Vienna, Austria at 6:30 p.m.
Mercury will too close to the sun to observe most of the month, but begins a good morning apparition at the end of the month for observers in the Northern Hemisphere.
Venus is in superior conjunction with the sun on the 25th, so will be hard to see all month. Look for it during the partial solar eclipse on the 23rd.
Mars is now fading rapidly in brightness as it moves towards the far side of the sun.
Jupiter rises well after midnight in the constellation Cancer, moving into Leo in mid-month.
Saturn, in Libra, vanishes into evening twilight late in the month.
Uranus is in opposition on Oct. 7 in Pisces, visible all night.
Neptune is well placed in the evening sky in 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.