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. 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. [Related: 10 Must-See Stargazing Events to Look Up for in 2015]
Night Sky Photos:
Tuesday, Nov. 3, 7:24 a.m. EST
Last Quarter Moon
The Last Quarter Moon rises around 11 p.m. and sets around 1 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 12:47 p.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.
Thursday, Nov. 19, 1:27 a.m. EST
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 12:30 p.m. and sets around 11:30 p.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Wednesday, Nov. 25, 5:44 p.m. EST
The November Full Moon is known as the Beaver Moon or 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.
Venus and Mars
Tuesday, Nov. 3, dawn
Venus and Mars are less than a degree apart, with Jupiter nearby. Venus is by far the brightest of the three, with Mars a tiny red dot just above brilliant white Venus.
Jupiter and the Moon
Friday, Nov. 6, dawn
Jupiter will be 2 degrees north of the moon, with Mars and Venus nearby.
Venus and the Moon
Saturday, Nov. 7, dawn
Venus will be 1.2 degrees north of the moon, with Mars and Jupiter nearby.
Wednesday, Nov. 18, midnight to dawn
Although not predicted to be active this year, this shower has often performed well in the past, and is worth a look.
Occultation of Aldebaran
Thursday, Nov. 26, before sunrise
For observers in Canada and the northern USA, the moon will pass in front of the bright red giant star Aldebaran in Taurus. The exact times of disappearance and reappearance will vary depending on your location. A program like Starry Night will give you the exact times for your location.
Mercury is too close to the sun to be observed this month.
Venus continues to shine brightly at dawn all month.
Mars, in the morning sky, moves from Leo into Virgo on Nov. 1, and continues to move eastward in Virgo for the rest of the month. It starts the month close to Jupiter, and ends it halfway between Jupiter and Venus.
Jupiter shines brightly in Leo in the eastern pre-dawn sky all month.
Saturn is too close to the sun to be observed all month.
Uranus is well placed in Pisces in the evening sky all month.
Neptune is well placed in the evening sky all month in the constellation 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.