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 page powered 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, you can send images and comments in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Night Sky Guides:
- Video: 2019's International Observe The Moon Night is Saturday Oct. 5
- Video: Constellations and Galaxies in Oct. 2019 Skywatching
- When, Where and How to See the Planets in the 2019 Night Sky
- The Top Skywatching Events to Look for in 2019
- Best Night Sky Events of October's 2019 (Stargazing Maps)
- Space Launch Calendar 2019: Sky Events, Missions & More
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Thursday, October 3 after sunset — Venus Passes Spica
On the evenings surrounding Thursday, October 3, the orbital motion (white line) of the bright planet Venus will carry it near Virgo's brightest star, Spica. At closest approach on Thursday, Venus will sit less than three degrees above (to the celestial north of) that star. The duo will be very low in the western sky for a brief period after sunset and embedded in the evening twilight. Ensure that sun has completely disappeared below the horizon before attempting to search for them using binoculars (red circle). Observers at low latitudes will find it easier to see Spica, which will be almost 85 times dimmer than Venus. Watch for the planet Mercury positioned seven degrees to the left of Venus.
Thursday, October 3 afternoon — See Jupiter in Daytime and Night-time
On Thursday, October 3, the almost half-illuminated moon will be located one degree above Jupiter. Both objects will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars (red circle) or a backyard telescope at low magnification. This conjunction will offer an excellent opportunity to see Jupiter in daylight, using the moon as a reference. In mid-afternoon, Jupiter will be directly below the moon. After dusk, the moon will have moved slightly farther away, and will sit to Jupiter's upper left (celestial northeast).
Saturday, October 5 at 16:47 GMT — First Quarter Moon near Saturn
After the moon has completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see it half-illuminated — on its eastern side. At first quarter, the moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight local time, so it is readily visible in the afternoon. The evenings around first quarter are the best times to see the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight. Look for yellowish Saturn sitting less than two degrees to the upper right (or celestial northwest) of the moon. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars and backyard telescopes at low magnification (red circle). Observers in southern Africa will see the moon occult Saturn.
Saturday, October 5 at 11 p.m. EDT – The Elusive Lunar X
Several times a year at the moon's first quarter phase, a feature called the Lunar X becomes visible in strong binoculars and small telescopes. For a few hours centered on approximately 11 p.m. EDT on Saturday, October 5, the illuminated rims of the craters Purbach, la Caille, and Blanchinus will form a small, but very obvious X-shape. Using binoculars or a backyard telescope, look for the X along the terminator, and about one third of the way up from the southern pole of the moon (at lunar coordinates 2° East, 24° South).
Tuesday, October 8 evening — Draconids Meteor Shower Peaks
The annual Draconids Meteor Shower, which runs between October 6 and 10, will peak overnight on Monday, October 8. This shower, generated by debris dropped by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, usually delivers relatively few meteors. But it has occasionally been much more prolific. The best time to watch for Draconids will be after dusk, when the radiant in Draco is high in the northern sky. Unfortunately, the bright, waxing gibbous moon will wash out many of the fainter meteors
Thursday, October 10 evening — Bright Moon marks Neptune
On the evening of Thursday, October 10, the waxing gibbous moon will pass four degrees below (to the celestial south of) distant, blue Neptune. While the bright moonlight will overwhelm the nearby dim planet, take note of Neptune's location among the modest stars of Aquarius, and observe Neptune on a subsequent date, when the moon has left the scene.
Friday, October 11 from 7:15 to 9:45 p.m. EDT — Ganymede Shadow Transit on Jupiter
From time to time, the little round, black shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons become visible in backyard telescopes as they cross (or transit) the planet's disk. On Friday evening, October 11, between 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. EDT observers in the Americas can see the shadow cast by Ganymede cross Jupiter's disk. Only observers located west of the Great Lakes will see the entire transit.
Sunday, October 13 at 21:09 GMT — Small Full Hunter's Moon
The full moon of October, traditionally called the Hunter's Moon, Blood Moon, or Sanguine Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Cetus and Pisces. Since it's opposite the sun on this day of the lunar month, the full moon rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. This full moon will occur a few days after apogee, producing the smallest full moon of 2019.
Sunday, October 13 evening — GRS and Rare Double-Shadow Transit on Jupiter
From time to time, the little round, black shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons become visible in backyard telescopes as they cross (or transit) the planet's disk. On Sunday evening, October 13, observers in the Americas can see a rare double-shadow transit on Jupiter. At dusk, Europa's shadow will be midway across the northern hemisphere of the planet — accompanied by the Great Red Spot. Shortly before 8 p.m. EDT, Io's shadow will join in the fun. Two shadows will be visible for approximately 35 minutes — until Europa's shadow moves off the planet at about 8:28 p.m. EDT. Io's shadow transit will end at 10 p.m. EDT — after the planet has set for more easterly observers.
Monday, October 14 overnight — Full Moon near Uranus
Starting in mid-evening on Monday, October 14, and continuing through dawn on Tuesday, the bright, full moon will pass within five degrees below (or to the celestial south of) the planet Uranus. While Uranus is bright enough to be seen in binoculars under dark sky conditions, the nearby moon will overwhelm it. Take note of Uranus' location in the sky, east of the stars of Pisces, and observe the planet on a subsequent evening, after the moon has moved away.
Sunday, October 20 evening — Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
On the evening of Sunday, October 20, Mercury (orbit shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation for the current apparition, 25 degrees east of the Sun. With Mercury sitting below a shallowly dipping evening ecliptic in the west-southwestern sky, this will be a poor appearance of the planet for Northern Hemisphere observers, but an excellent one for those at more southerly latitudes. The optimal viewing period for mid-northern latitudes is between 6:45 and 7 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset) the planet will exhibit a waning gibbous phase. Look for much brighter Venus sitting seven degrees to Mercury's right.
Monday, October 21 at 12:39 GMT — Last Quarter Moon
At its last quarter phase, the moon rises around midnight and remains visible in the southern sky all morning. At this phase, the moon is illuminated on its western side, towards the pre-dawn sun. Last quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. About 3½ hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. After this phase, the waning moon will traverse the last quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon.
Tuesday, October 22 pre-dawn — Orionids Meteor Shower Peak
The annual Orionids meteor shower, composed of debris from repeated passages of Comet Halley, runs from September 23 to November 27. It peaks between midnight and dawn on Tuesday, October 22. At that time the sky overhead is moving directly into the densest region of the particle field, producing 10-20 fast meteors per hour. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but will be travelling away from the constellation of Orion. The waning half-illuminated moon will wash out some of the meteors.
Tuesday, October 22 after midnight — Moon Buzzes the Beehive Cluster
When the waning, half-illuminated moon rises in the eastern sky after shortly before 1 a.m. local time on Tuesday, October 22, it will be completing a passage through the heart of the large, open star cluster known as the Beehive (and Messier 44). The moon's orbital motion (green line) will carry it several degrees away from the cluster by dawn, but both objects will fit within the field of view of binoculars (red circle). For best results, position the moon outside of the lower left of your binoculars' field of view and look for the cluster's myriad stars. Hours earlier, observers in Europe and Asia can witness the moon crossing just above the cluster's center.
Friday, October 25 at 8:51 p.m. EDT — Algol at Minimum Brightness
The "Demon Star" Algol in Perseus is among the most accessible variable stars for beginner skywatchers. Its naked-eye brightness dims noticeably for about 10 hours once every 2 days, 20 hours, and 49 minutes. That happens because a dim companion star orbiting nearly edge-on to Earth crosses in front of the much brighter main star. On Friday, October 25 at 8:51 p.m. EDT, Algol will reach its minimum brightness of magnitude 3.4. At that time, it will be positioned partway up the northeastern horizon. By 1:51 a.m. EDT, Algol will be approaching the zenith and will have brightened to its usual magnitude of 2.1.
Saturday, October 26 pre-dawn — Morning Zodiacal Light for Mid-Northern Observers
For about half an hour before dawn during moonless periods in September and October annually, the steep morning ecliptic favors the appearance of the zodiacal light in the eastern sky. This is reflected sunlight from interplanetary particles concentrated in the plane of the solar system. During the two-week period that starts just before the October new moon, look above the eastern horizon, below the stars of Leo, for a broad wedge of faint light rising from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic (marked by green line). Don't confuse it with the Milky Way, which is sitting further to the southeast.
Saturday, October 26 pre-dawn — Old Moon above Mars
In the eastern sky between about 6:30 a.m. and dawn local time on Saturday, October 26, the old crescent moon will be positioned six degrees above (or to the celestial northwest of) the reddish planet Mars.
Monday, October 28 at 3:38 GMT — New Moon
At its new phase, the moon is traveling between Earth and the sun. Since sunlight can only reach the far side of the moon, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, the moon will be completely hidden from view.
Monday, October 28 all night — Uranus at Opposition
Uranus will reach opposition on Monday, October 28. On that night it will be closest to Earth for this year — 1.75 billion miles (2.8 billion km) or 157 light-minutes. Its minimal distance from Earth will cause it to shine at a peak brightness of magnitude 5.7 and to appear slightly larger in telescopes (inset). At opposition, planets are visible all night. During autumn this year, the blue-green planet will be moving retrograde westwards, towards the constellation of Pisces.
Tuesday, October 29 after sunset — Young Moon meets Venus
In the southwestern sky after sunset on Tuesday, October 29, the young crescent moon will be positioned four degrees above (to the celestial northeast of) the bright planet Venus. Both objects will fit within the field of view of binoculars (red circle). Take note of Mercury sitting just less than six degrees below the moon.
Wednesday, October 30 after sunset — Mercury Passes Venus
Low in the southwestern sky on the evenings around Wednesday, October 30, speedy Mercury's motion sunward will carry it past much brighter Venus. At closest approach on October 30, Mercury will be positioned 2.5 degrees to the lower left (or to the celestial south) of Venus, allowing both planets to appear together in the field of view of binoculars (red circle).
Thursday, October 31 evening — Jupiter near the Crescent Moon and Ceres
In the southwestern sky on the evening of Thursday, October 31, the waxing crescent moon will be positioned four degrees to the upper left (or celestial east) of Jupiter. The pair will fit together in the field of view of binoculars (red circle) and will set after 8:30 p.m. local time. Look for the magnitude 8.35 dwarf planet Ceres sitting below and between Jupiter and the moon.
Mercury will spend October in the southwestern evening sky, reaching its widest angle east of the sun, and peak visibility, on October 20. The apparition will be a poor one for mid-northern latitude observers, but an excellent one for Southern Hemisphere observers. During the month, the speedy planet will decrease its distance from Earth by almost 50%. Viewed through a telescope during October, Mercury's disk will continuously wane in phase from 85% to 30% illuminated. Meanwhile, the planet's apparent disk diameter will increase dramatically while its apparent brightness will decrease. Mercury will stay within a fist's diameter of much brighter Venus all month, and will pass 2.5 degrees south of Venus on October 30. The young crescent moon will sit above Mercury and Venus on October 29.
Venus will spend October hugging the west-southwestern horizon and steadily swinging wider of the evening sun. This apparition will be poor for mid-northern latitude observers, but a very good one for more southerly observers. The very bright planet will begin the month sitting low in the west-southwestern sky among the stars of Virgo. At mid-month, Venus will cross into Libra, where it will reside until early November. During October, Venus will maintain a very high brightness of magnitude -3.85, allowing it to be easily seen even while embedded within the evening twilight. Due to its location on the far side of the sun from Earth, when viewed in a telescope, Venus will exhibit an apparent disk diameter of just over 10 arc-seconds and a nearly fully illuminated phase. Venus will remain within ten degrees of much dimmer Mercury during October, and the two planets will move to a separation of only 2.5 degrees on October 30. The young crescent moon will sit above Mercury and Venus on October 29.
Mars will spend October in the eastern pre-dawn sky, rising after 6 a.m. local time. The planet's eastward orbital motion will be carrying it through the stars of Virgo all month. Meanwhile the daily westward motion of the stars will lift the planet out of the morning twilight and available for viewing after mid-month. The Earth-Mars separation will be decreasing slightly during October, but Mars will continue to appear small in telescopes, and shine with a modest brightness of magnitude 1.78. On October 26, the old waning crescent moon will be positioned six degrees above (or to the celestial northwest of) Mars.
Jupiter will be descending towards the western evening sun during October. But the shallow angle of the ecliptic and earlier sunsets will allow the bright, magnitude -2 planet to remain visible in the lower portion of the southwestern sky during early-evening. Jupiter will spend October moving prograde through southern Ophiuchus. That eastward orbital motion will result in Jupiter setting at approximately the same time, 8:20 p.m. local time, all month long. Watch for Scorpius' brightest star, Antares, positioned about ten degrees to Jupiter's lower right. As Earth moves farther from Jupiter this month, the planet will decrease slightly in brightness (from magnitude -2.0 to -1.9) and apparent disk size (from 36 to 33 arc-seconds). From time to time, the little round shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons are visible as they cross the planet's disk. On October 13, observers in the Americas can see a rare double-shadow transit on Jupiter when Europa's shadow, accompanied by the Great Red Spot, will be joined by Io's shadow for about 35 minutes, commencing after 8 p.m. EDT. Starting in mid-afternoon on October 3, the moon will be located one degree above Jupiter, offering an excellent opportunity to see Jupiter in daylight while using the moon as a reference.
Saturn will be visible during October as a medium-bright (visual magnitude 0.5), yellowish object in the lower part of the southern evening sky. During the month, it will be moving slowly eastward through northern Sagittarius — to the upper right of the stars that form Sagittarius' teapot-shaped asterism. By month-end, Saturn will be setting around 10 p.m. local time, but the earlier sunsets will provide plenty of viewing time. Saturn's rings, which subtend an angular diameter of about 37 arc-seconds, continue to be well open because the planet's northern pole is tilted roughly sunward. On October 5, the moon will be located less than 2 degrees to the lower left (or celestial southeast) of Saturn. On that date, observers in southern Africa will see the moon occult Saturn.
Blue-green Uranus (magnitude 5.7) will spend October moving slowly retrograde westward among the stars of southwestern Aries. To assist you in locating the planet, which can be readily seen in binoculars and backyard telescopes on dark nights, Uranus will be sitting less than 4 degrees to the upper left (or to the celestial north) of the naked-eye star Xi (ξ) Ceti. Since Uranus will be rising about an hour after dusk during October, it will be observable all night long. On October 28, Uranus will reach opposition, its closest approach to Earth for 2019 — a distance of 2.6 light-hours or 1.74 billion miles (2.8 billion km). At that time, it will appear slightly brighter, and its apparent disk diameter will peak at 3.75 arc-seconds.
As October opens, blue-tinted Neptune will be recently past opposition, leaving it visible all night long, and shining at close to its brightest magnitude (7.8) for 2019. The distant planet will spend October moving retrograde westward through the stars of eastern Aquarius — shifting slowly away from that constellation's naked-eye star Phi (φ) Aquarii and toward another naked-eye star named Hydor, also known as Lambda (λ) Aquarii.
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 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.
- Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.
- Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.
- Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when's the next lunar eclipse.
- Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.