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 pagepowered 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, August 7 at 2:11 p.m. EDT - Full Corn Moon
The August full moon, known as the "Corn Moon," "Sturgeon Moon," "Red Moon," "Green Corn Moon," and "Grain Moon," always shines in or near the stars of Aquarius and Capricornus. Full moons always rise around sunset and set around sunrise.
Monday, August 14 at 9:15 p.m. EDT - Last Quarter Moon
Last quarter moons rise around midnight and remain visible in the southern sky during morning daylight. At this phase, the moon is illuminated on the eastern side, towards the pre-dawn 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 on the way to new moon.
Monday, August 21 at 2:30 p.m. EDT - New Moon and Total Solar Eclipse
At new moon, the moon is travelling between the Earth and sun. Sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon that is turned away from us, and it's in the same region of the sky where the sun is, so it cannot be seen. This new moon occurs as the moon crosses the ecliptic, resulting in a total solar eclipse visible throughout North America. A day or two after new moon, look for the slender sliver of the waxing crescent moon low above the western horizon.
Tuesday, August 29 at 4:13 a.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. The first quarter moon rises around noontime and sets around midnight, so it is visible half the time in the afternoon hours – and the other half during the evening hours. The term quarter moon refers not to its shape, but the fact that our natural satellite has now completely the first quarter of its orbital journey around Earth since the last new moon.
Wednesday, August 2 all night - Moon meets Saturn
Overnight on Wednesday, August 2 the waxing gibbous moon will sit only three degrees to the upper right of yellowish planet Saturn.
Wednesday, August 9 overnight – Moon near Neptune
After the waning gibbous moon rises in late evening on Wednesday, August 9, use your telescope to look for tiny blue Neptune sitting less than 3 degrees to the upper right of it. The pair is low in the southeastern sky among the stars of Aquarius. Parts of Antarctica and the west tip of Australia will see the moon occult the planet before dawn.
Saturday, August 12 pre-dawn - Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks
The Perseid meteor shower peaks before dawn on Saturday, August 12. It is always the most reliable in the year, but this year the waning gibbous moon will hamper viewing efforts.
Wednesday, August 16 pre-dawn – Moon kisses Aldebaran
After the moon rises in the eastern sky about 1 am local time on Wednesday, August 16, look for the bright star Aldebaran just above it. Observers in the North tip of South America, Caribbean, northernmost Africa, Europe, Middle East, west Asia will see the moon occult the star shortly after midnight EDT.
Saturday, August 19 pre-dawn – Moon meets Venus
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Saturday, August 19, Venus and the old crescent moon will rise together after 3:30 am local time. The moon will be about 4 degrees below the bright planet. Viewed in a telescope, Venus will show a gibbous phase.
Monday, August 21 - Total Solar Eclipse
The solar eclipse of Monday, August 21 will be visible as a partial eclipse throughout North America and as a total eclipse along a narrow path of totality which extends from Oregon to South Carolina. Times vary by region. Follow Space.com for full coverage of the event.
Friday, August 25 evening - Jupiter Meets the Moon
For a short time on Friday evening August 25, Jupiter and the waxing crescent moon will pair up, low in the southwestern sky and approximately 5 degrees apart. The bright planet sets about 10:45 pm local time.
Wednesday, August 30 evening - Moon meets Saturn Again
On the evening of Wednesday, August 30 the waxing gibbous moon will sit about five degrees to the upper left of yellowish Saturn, their second pairing of the month.
Only visible in early August, Mercury completes a so-so evening apparition for mid-northern latitude observers, but a superb one from the southern hemisphere. The best chance to see it is after 9:15 p.m. local time when it's a few degrees above the western horizon. For most of the month it swings sunward towards inferior conjunction on August 26.
Throughout August, extremely bright Venus shines in the eastern morning sky from 3:30 am local time until dawn while dropping sunward, traversing the stars of Gemini, and entering Cancer at month end – landing less than two degrees from the Beehive Cluster on the 31st. On Saturday, August 19, the old crescent moon will sit about 4 degrees below the planet.
Mars, just past superior conjunction with the sun, is unobservable until the last few days of August, when it re-appears low in the eastern sky before sunrise.
During August, bright Jupiter shines low in the southwestern evening sky, moving prograde towards Spica through the stars of Virgo. By month end, it is well embedded in the evening twilight's glow and sets about 9:30 pm local time. On Friday evening August 25, Jupiter and the waxing crescent moon will appear together low in the southwestern sky and approximately 5 degrees apart.
Saturn spends August near the Milky Way in southern Ophiuchus, ending a retrograde loop on the 25th. The planet is visible with naked eyes starting at dusk, setting about 2:30 am local time on the 1stand just after midnight at month end. This year Saturn sits low in the southern sky, making telescope views less than ideal from mid-northern latitudes. As a consolation prize, the ring plane is tilted its maximum extent (26.7°) toward the Sun and Earth. On Wednesday, August 2 and again on Wednesday, August 30, the waxing gibbous moon will sit less than palm's width north of (above) Saturn.
During August, blue-green Uranus rises in late evening and remains well placed for viewing until the pre-dawn in the southeastern sky, moving slowly retrograde about one degree above the modest star Torcularis (Omicron Piscium) in southern Pisces. At visual magnitude 5.8, it is observable in binoculars and with the naked eye under dark skies.
Approaching opposition early next month, dim blue Neptune rises shortly after sunset and is observable in the lower southeastern sky all night. During the month it is moving retrograde (westwards) towards the minor star Hydor in the constellation of 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, 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.