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, 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 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 page powered by N2YO.comto find out when and how to see the International Space Station and other satellites. We also have a helpful guide on how you can see and track a Starlink satellite train.
Read on to 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 and Chris at @Astrogeoguy
Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo and would like to share them with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calendar of observing highlights
Thursday, Feb. 1: Gibbous Moon passes Spica (wee hours to dawn)
Starting late on Wednesday night and continuing until dawn on Thursday, Feb. 1, the waning gibbous moon will shine close to Virgo's brightest star Spica.
The pair will be cozy enough to share the view in binoculars all night long. When they appear above the rooftops in the east-southeastern sky around midnight, the whitish star will be twinkling below the moon. The orbital motion of the moon will carry it within a finger's width (or one degree) of Spica around 3 a.m. Eastern Time. Observers viewing their conjunction in the southwestern sky before sunrise will see Spica a little farther to the moon's lower right (or celestial west).
Tuesday, Feb. 2: Third quarter moon (at 23:18 GMT)
When the moon reaches its third quarter phase at 6:18 p.m. EST, 3:18 p.m. PST, or 23:18 GMT on Friday, Feb. 2, it will appear half-illuminated with its western hemisphere lit by the pre-dawn sun.
At the third quarter phase the moon rises around midnight in your local time zone and then lingers into the morning daylight where its pale form can be seen in the southern sky. Third quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. About 3.5 hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. The stretch of dark, moonless evenings that follow this phase are ideal for observing deep sky targets.
Sunday, Feb. 4: Old Moon in the Scorpion's claws (pre-dawn)
When the waning crescent moon rises in the southeast soon after 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, Feb. 4, it will be crossing the upright line of three medium-bright, white stars that make up the claws of Scorpius.
From top to bottom, their names are Graffias or Acrab, Dschubba, and Fang — or Beta, Delta, and Pi Scorpii, respectively. Two fainter stars named Nu and Rho Scorpii frame the trio. Scorpius' brightest star, reddish Antares, will twinkle a palm's width to the lower left of the moon and the claws stars.
Monday, Feb. 5: Crescent moon occults Antares (around 4:45 a.m. IST)
Hours after the moon poses near the bright, reddish star Antares in the Americas, observers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India can watch the moon occult Antares on Monday morning, Feb. 5. The moon's bright, lower limb will cover Antares around 4:45 a.m. India Standard Time. Then the star will emerge from behind the dark upper limb of the moon about an hour later.
Use an app like Starry Night to look up the ingress and egress times for your location. The event can be seen with sharp eyes and through binoculars and small telescopes (orange circle). For observers located across southwestern China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, extreme western Melanesia, parts of Japan, and western Micronesia, the event will occur in a bright sky.
Tuesday, Feb. 6: Moon with pre-dawn planets (predawn)
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the pretty crescent moon will share the southeastern predawn sky with the bright planet Venus and far fainter Mars. Skywatchers viewing the scene before about 6 a.m. local time can spot the 16%-illuminated crescent moon shining about two fist diameters to the right (or 18 degrees to the celestial WSW) of Venus, with the stars of Sagittarius sprinkled between them. Take a photo!
Once Mars rises shortly after 6 a.m. it will be located a palm's width to the lower left of Venus. Observers viewing from the tropics may be able to spot Mercury to the lower left of Mars. On Wednesday morning, the even thinner crescent moon will hop east to shine at Venus' lower right, setting up a second photo opportunity.
Thursday, Feb. 8: Sliver of moon near Mercury and Mars (before sunrise)
Just before sunrise on Thursday morning, Feb. 8, the extremely thin crescent moon will form a triangle with Mars and Mercury a short distance above the southeastern horizon.
Observers viewing them from the southern USA may catch sight of brighter Mercury and fainter Mars positioned a palm's width to the left and above the moon, respectively. Bright Venus will gleam a fist's width to the upper right of the trio. Skywatchers at tropical latitudes will see Venus and the grouping more easily.
Friday, Feb. 9: Perigee New Moon (5:59 p.m. EST)
At 5:59 p.m. EST, 2:59 p.m. PST, or 22:59 GMT on Friday, Feb. 9, the moon will officially reach its new moon phase. At that time it will be located in Capricornus, approximately 4.6 degrees south of the sun.
While new, the moon is traversing the space between Earth and the sun. Since sunlight can only shine on the far side of a new moon, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, our natural satellite becomes completely hidden from view for about a day — unless a solar eclipse occurs! This new moon will arrive only 20 hours before the moon's closest approach to Earth this month (or perigee). The combined pull of the sun and moon will generate large tides worldwide.
Saturday, Feb. 10: Young moon near Saturn (after sunset)
For about an hour after sunset on Saturday, Feb. 10, the very delicate crescent of the young moon will appear just a few finger widths below (3.5 degrees to the celestial SSW) of Saturn's yellowish dot.
Their conjunction above the southwestern horizon will be tight enough for them to share the view in binoculars (orange circle), but be sure to wait for the sun to completely disappear before turning any optical aids towards them.
Wednesday, Feb. 14: Waxing moon dates Jupiter (evening)
On Wednesday, Feb. 14, the waxing crescent moon will go on a Valentine's date with the bright planet Jupiter. The couple will rise in the late morning, cross the sky all day long, and then set in the west around midnight.
Binoculars users (pink circle) can try to spot Jupiter's small pale disk positioned less than a fist's diameter to the moon's lower left in bright daylight — but be sure not to point the lenses anywhere near the sun.
The moon's eastward motion of about one lunar diameter per hour will carry it steadily closer to Jupiter. In late afternoon, they'll be arranged left-right and just close enough together to share the view in binoculars. They'll make a pretty sight for unaided eyes and cameras as the sky is darkening.
Thursday, Feb. 15: Half-moon passes Uranus (evening)
In the western sky after dusk on Thursday, Feb. 15, the blue-green, magnitude 5.8 speck of Uranus will be positioned only a few finger-widths to the lower left (or 3 degrees to the celestial south) of the nearly half-illuminated moon — easily close enough for them to share the view in binoculars (orange circle). Bright Jupiter will gleam below them.
Friday, Feb. 16: First Quarter Moon (at 10:01 a.m. EST)
The moon will complete the first quarter of its orbit around Earth, measuring from the previous new moon, at 10:01 a.m. EST, 7:01 a.m. PST, or 15:01 GMT on Friday, Feb. 16.
At first quarter, the 90-degree angle formed by the Earth, sun, and moon will cause us to see our natural satellite as a half-moon with its eastern hemisphere illuminated. At this part of the lunar cycle, the moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight, allowing it to be seen in the afternoon daytime sky, too.
The evenings surrounding first quarter are the best ones for viewing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight.
Friday, Feb. 16: See the Lunar X and V
Several times a year, small clair-obscur effect features on the moon called the Lunar X and the Lunar V become visible in strong binoculars and backyard telescopes for a few hours near the moon's first quarter phase.
The Lunar X, a prominent X-shaped pattern, appears when the rims of the craters Purbach, la Caille, and Blanchinus are illuminated from a particular angle of sunlight. Look for it beside the terminator about one-third of the way up from the southern pole of the moon.
The Lunar V forms along the northern span of the terminator near the crater Ukert. The features will begin to develop by about 5:30 p.m. EST (or 22:30 GMT) on Friday, Feb. 16. At that time the moon will be shining in a twilit sky in easterly time zones in the Americas and in a bright sky in western time zones. The patterns will peak in intensity about 90 minutes later and then disappear by about 8:30 p.m. EST or 5:30 p.m. PST, which converts to 01:30 GMT on Saturday. Viewing the moon through polarized glasses in daytime will increase the image contrast.
Friday, Feb. 16: Bright moon sweeps the Pleiades (evening)
Once the sky darkens after dusk on Friday, Feb. 16, the bright Pleiades star cluster, also known as Messier 45, the Seven Sisters, Subaru, the Hole in the Sky, and Matariki will be located several lunar diameters to the right (or celestial west) of the waxing gibbous moon.
To better see the cluster's stars, tuck the moon out of sight on the left side of your binoculars' field of view (orange circle). The larger Hyades star cluster that forms the triangular face of Taurus the bull will be located a fist's diameter to the lower left of the moon, anchored by the bright orange foreground star Aldebaran.
Saturday, Feb. 17: Moon crosses the Winter Hexagon (evening)
The Winter Football, also known as the Winter Hexagon and Winter Circle, is an asterism composed of the brightest stars in the constellations of Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, and Canis Minor — specifically Sirius, Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Castor & Pollux, and Procyon.
The hexagon is visible during evenings from mid-November to spring every year. Viewed during the evening from mid-Northern latitudes, the huge pattern will stand upright in the southern sky — stretching from about 30 degrees above the horizon to overhead. The Milky Way passes vertically through the asterism, but you won't see its faint glow while the waxing gibbous moon journeys through the giant shape from Saturday to Tuesday this week (red path).
Sunday, Feb. 18: Crater Clavius (all night)
On Sunday evening, Feb. 18, the terminator on the gibbous moon will fall just to the west of the large and distinctive crater Clavius, which is located near the moon's southern pole. Binoculars or a backyard telescope will reveal a curved chain of craters, each descending in diameter, inside Clavius.
More magnification will show that its rim is degraded and polygonal in shape. A lunar base inside the crater was featured in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Monday, Feb. 19: Blue Mare Tranquillitatis (all night)
The maria, Latin for "seas", are the large, dark regions visible on the moon's near side. They are basins excavated by major impactors early in the moon's geologic history and later infilled with dark basaltic rock that upwelled from the interior of the moon.
Several maria link together to form a curving chain across the northern half of the moon's near-side. Mare Tranquillitatis, where humankind first walked upon the moon, is the large, round mare in the centre of the chain. Sharp eyes might detect that this mare is darker and bluer than the others, due to enrichment in the mineral titanium.
Tuesday, Feb. 20: Bright moon poses with Gemini's Pollux (all night)
In the eastern sky starting after dusk on Tuesday evening, Feb. 20, the bright, nearly full moon will shine a thumb's width to the lower right (or ~1.7 degrees to the celestial south) of the bright star Pollux in Gemini. Pollux' slightly fainter twin, the double star Castor will sparkle above them.
As the trio crosses the sky during the night, the eastward orbital motion of the moon will carry it farther from Pollux, while the diurnal rotation of the sky will rotate Gemini's stars to the moon's right.
Thursday, Feb. 22: Venus Kisses Mars (before sunrise)
One of 2024's closest planetary conjunctions will occur on the mornings surrounding Thursday, Feb. 22. The brilliant planet Venus' return sunward will carry it very closely on the upper left (or only 0.6 degrees to the celestial north) of far fainter Mars.
They'll be close enough together to share the view in a backyard telescope (orange circle) from Monday to Saturday, with Venus approaching Mars from the upper right before Thursday, and then sliding to Mars' lower left afterward, though your telescope may flip and/or mirror the image. Binoculars will capture the pair easily, too. Skywatchers closer to the tropics will see Mars more easily.
Saturday, Feb. 24: Mini Full Snow Moon (at 12:30 GMT)
The February full moon will occur on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 a.m. EST, 4:30 a.m. PST, or 12:30 GMT. In the Americas, the moon will appear almost full on both Friday and Saturday evenings.
The indigenous Anishnaabe (Ojibwe and Chippewa) people of the Great Lakes region call the Feb. full moon Namebini-giizis "Sucker Fish Moon" or Mikwa-giizis, the "Bear Moon". For them, it signifies a time to discover how to see beyond reality and to communicate through energy rather than sound. The Algonquin call it Wapicuummilcum, the "Ice in River is Gone" moon. The Cree of North America call it Kisipisim, the "the Great Moon", a time when the animals remain hidden away and traps are empty. For Europeans, it is known as the Snow Moon or Hunger Moon.
Because this full moon will occur only 26.5 hours before the moon's apogee, its greatest distance from Earth this month, it will look about 7% smaller than average (red circle) — making it the opposite of a supermoon and the smallest full moon of 2024.
Monday, Feb. 26: Evening Zodiacal Light (after dusk)
If you live in a location where the sky is free of light pollution, you might be able to spot the Zodiacal Light during the two weeks that precede the new moon on March 10.
Starting on Monday, Feb. 26, after the evening twilight has faded, you'll have about half an hour to check the western sky for a broad wedge of faint light extending upwards from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic below the planet Jupiter.
That glow is the zodiacal light — sunlight scattered from countless small particles of material that populate the plane of our solar system. Don't confuse it with the brighter Milky Way, which extends upwards from the northwestern evening horizon at this time of year.
Thursday, Feb. 29: Leap Day (all day)
Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 will be a leap day. We add an extra day to the end of February once every four years to keep our calendar from drifting. Earth takes 365.2425 days to complete one orbit of the sun — our year. That extra quarter of a day, if not taken care of, would eventually cause dates to occur when the Earth has traveled much farther along its orbit — shifting the seasons around and altering the timing of Easter, Passover, and Chinese and Persian New Year festivals, among others.
In four years, the drift is roughly a day's worth, so our leap years are at four-year intervals. To eliminate the cumulative effect of the additional 0.0025 day in each year, we eliminate the leap day in years that are divisible by 100, unless the year is divisible by 400. Mars' year of 668.5991 Martian days (or sols) will require adding three leap days every five years — perhaps a bonus long weekend for future Martian colonists?
Visible planets in February
For the opening days of February, mid-northern latitude observers can see magnitude -0.3 Mercury with difficulty just above the southeastern horizon before sunrise, with fainter Mars and brilliant Venus arranged to its upper right (or celestial west).
In a telescope, Mercury will display a waxing, nearly fully illuminated disk. The planet will shift sunward each morning, increasing its angle from its companions and reducing its visibility. Observers closer to the tropics will see the planet more easily, including a visit by the slender crescent of the old moon positioned 7 degrees to Mercury's right (celestial southwest) on Feb. 8. The planet will pass the sun at superior conjunction on Feb. 28.
Brilliant, magnitude -3.9 Venus will continue to catch the eye in the southeastern pre-dawn sky throughout February, though the planet's swing sunward will decrease its elevation dramatically.
Our sister planet will rise in a dark sky among the stars of Sagittarius around 5:20 a.m. local time on Feb. 1. After crossing into Capricornus on Feb. 17, she will rise in a brightening sky at month's end. Under magnification during February, Venus will exhibit a disk that waxes from 86% to 91% illuminated and decreases in size from 12.2 to 11.1 arc-seconds.
Venus will begin February positioned about 10 degrees west of Mars and Mercury. Venus will approach and then pass 0.6 degrees north of 100 times fainter Mars on Feb. 22, though their spectacular conjunction will be best seen from southerly latitudes. The old crescent moon will pose to the lower right of Venus on Feb. 7.
Mars will spend February gradually emerging from the morning twilight above the southeastern horizon. As February begins the magnitude 1.3 planet will shine in Sagittarius between Mercury and Venus.
The old moon will form a triangle to the southwest of Mars and Mercury on Feb. 8, a sight best viewed from the tropics. Mars will cross into Capricornus on Feb. 13. Meanwhile, Venus will approach Mars and pass just 0.6 degrees to Mars' north on Feb. 22 in a spectacular conjunction that favors observers at southerly latitudes. At the end of February Mars will be rising in around 5:30 a.m. local time. Mars' position on the far side of the sun from Earth will keep the planet a rather small 4 arc-seconds wide in telescopes.
As February opens, Jupiter will appear as a brilliant white beacon shining high in the southern sky after sunset. It will already be in the western half of the sky, limiting our views of it to evening only.
The planet will slowly travel eastward through the stars of southern Aries and end the month setting in the late evening. As the month unfolds, Jupiter will slightly diminish in brightness.
Binoculars will reveal Jupiter's four large Galilean moons flanking the planet on any night. Jupiter seen through a backyard telescope will show its equatorial zones and belts. Better quality optics will reveal the Great Red Spot on every 2nd or 3rd night. Jupiter's Galilean satellites will frequently eclipse and occult one another, and the round, black shadows they cast upon the planet can be seen crossing Jupiter's disk on Feb. 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 18, and 29 in the Americas. The waxing crescent moon will shine near Jupiter on Feb. 14.
Saturn will already be sinking in the western sky when it appears after dusk in early February. The yellowish, magnitude 0.96 ringed planet will descend deeper into the western twilight every evening.
After a visit by the young crescent moon on Feb. 10, Saturn will become lost from view around mid-month and reach solar conjunction on Feb. 28.
Uranus will be a well-placed evening target during all of February. Traveling slowly eastward in southeastern Aries, about midway between Jupiter and the Pleiades cluster, it will already have culminated after dusk. That's when the magnitude 5.7 planet will appear most clearly in a backyard telescope or binoculars.
In a telescope, Uranus will show a small, 3.6 arc-seconds-wide, blue-green disk. On Feb. 15 the bright half-illuminated moon will shine less than 3 degrees to Uranus' right (celestial north). On moonless nights, Uranus can be located using the star Delta Arietis, which will be positioned almost 3 degrees to the north-northeast of the planet.
During February, distant blue Neptune will be creeping eastward on the Pisces side of its border with Aquarius, about 19 degrees above Saturn along the ecliptic. Only until about mid-February will the magnitude 7.9 planet will remain high enough in the western sky for telescopic observing immediately after darkness falls.
In a telescope, Neptune's tiny blue disk will span 2.3 arc-seconds. Larger telescopes can reveal its large moon Triton. The slim waxing crescent moon will climb over Neptune on Feb. 11-12.
Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50% illuminated.
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 fainter objects, such as meteors, dim stars, nebulas, and galaxies, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Avoid looking at your phone's bright screen by keeping it tucked away. If you must use it, set the brightness to minimum — or cover it with clingy red film.
Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars, and the brightest planets - if they are above the horizon. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the fainter constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that is the disk of our home galaxy, the Milky Way — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you're stuck in a city or suburban area, use a tree or dark building to block ambient light (or moonlight) and help reveal fainter sky objects. If you're in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be outside for more than a few minutes, and it's not a warm summer evening, dress more warmly than you think is necessary. An hour of winter observing can chill you to the bone. For meteor showers, a blanket or lounge chair will prove to be much more comfortable than standing, or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
Daytime skywatching: On the days surrounding first quarter, the moon is visible in the afternoon daytime sky. At last quarter, the moon rises before sunrise and lingers into the morning daytime sky. When Venus is at a significant angle away from the sun it can often be spotted during the day as a brilliant point of light - but you'll need to consult an astronomy app to know when and where to look for it. When large sunspots develop on the sun, they can be seen without a telescope — as long as you use proper solar filters, such as eclipse glasses. Permanent eye damage can occur if you look at the sun for any length of time without protective eyewear.
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Chris Vaughan, aka @astrogeoguy, is an award-winning astronomer and Earth scientist with Astrogeo.ca, based near Toronto, Canada. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and hosts their Insider's Guide to the Galaxy webcasts on YouTube. An avid visual astronomer, Chris operates the historic 74˝ telescope at the David Dunlap Observatory. He frequently organizes local star parties and solar astronomy sessions, and regularly delivers presentations about astronomy and Earth and planetary science, to students and the public in his Digital Starlab portable planetarium. His weekly Astronomy Skylights blog at www.AstroGeo.ca is enjoyed by readers worldwide. He is a regular contributor to SkyNews magazine, writes the monthly Night Sky Calendar for Space.com in cooperation with Simulation Curriculum, the creators of Starry Night and SkySafari, and content for several popular astronomy apps. His book "110 Things to See with a Telescope", was released in 2021.
Thank you for your gracious welcome via email, though I fear we are ‘light years’ away from each other (as my comment shows, if it stays and is not censored) when it comes to this Earth and the Universe in which we live. I am no expert but each to their own beliefs.
Black holes don't existReply
so much cap like if they don't exist then it's all most impossible for the universe to exist, i have a theory of the big bang, the white hole theory, i believe that a black hole had held gas and dust for millions of years and then it got older and older that it had died and spit up the dust and matter and gas and such, then it all collided making planets and suchcorey555 said:Black holes don't exist