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, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Saturday, November 4 at 1:23 a.m. EDT - Full Frost / Beaver Moon
The November Full Moon, traditionally known as the Beaver Moon or Frost Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Taurus and Aries. Since it's opposite the sun on this day of the lunar month, it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise.
Sunday, November 5 early evening – Moon Occults Aldebaran
On the evening of Sunday, November 5, the nearly full moon will occult the naked eye star Aldebaran for observers in North America (except the west coast), northern Europe, and northwestern Asia. At approximately 8 p.m. EST, the moon's lit leading limb will cover Aldebaran. The star will emerge from the opposite dark limb about 9 p.m. Times vary by region.
Friday, November 10 at 3:36 p.m. EST - 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 location in space. After last quarter, the waning moon wane traverses the last quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon.
Saturday, November 11 pre-dawn – Moon meets Regulus
In the southern pre-dawn sky on Saturday, November 11, the last quarter moon will appear to the upper right of the bright star Regulus. For observers in southwestern North America and Central America, the moon will occult the star in daylight during the late morning. Observers in Japan and eastern Asia will see the event under a dark sky in the wee hours of November 12. Times and durations vary by region.
Sunday, November 12 pre-dawn - Northern Taurid Meteor Shower Peak
The Northern Taurids run from October 19th to December 10th annually. The weak shower, with only 5 meteors per hour at the peak, is derived from material left by the passage of periodic Comet 2P/Encke. The debris' larger than average grains often produce colorful fireballs. Watch on Saturday evening, before the last quarter moon rises.
Monday, November 13 before sunrise - Venus kisses Jupiter
Between 5:30 a.m. local time and sunrise on Monday, November 13, look very low in the eastern sky to see Venus positioned only 0.25 degrees to the left of Jupiter. The two planets will easily fit together in the field of view of a backyard telescope. (Be sure to point telescopes away before the sun rises below them.)
Tuesday, November 14 pre-dawn – Old Moon passes Mars
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on the morning of Tuesday, November 14, the old crescent moon will sit less than 7 degrees above dim reddish Mars. The double star Porrima will be visible between them. The following morning, the moon will shift to sit 6 degrees to the lower left of Mars.
Thursday, November 16 before sunrise – Old Moon near Jupiter and Venus
For an hour before sunrise on the morning of Thursday, November 16, look for the very old crescent moon sitting 5 degrees above Jupiter, with bright Venus appearing a few degrees lower. The following morning, the moon will drop to sit about 4.5 degrees to the lower left of Venus.
Saturday, November 18 pre-dawn - Leonid Meteor Shower peak
The annual Leonid Meteor shower, derived from material left by repeated passages of periodic Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, runs from November 5th to December 3rd. At the peak, before dawn on November 18, expect to see about 15 meteors per hour, many with persistent trains. A new moon will provide a dark sky for meteor watchers.
Saturday, November 18 at 6:42 a.m. EST - New Moon
When new, the moon is traveling between the Earth and the sun. Sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon that is turned away from us, and the moon is in the same region of the sky where the sun is, so it cannot be seen. A day or two after new moon, look low above the western horizon after sunset for the slender sliver of the waxing crescent moon.
Sunday, November 19 after sunset - Mercury near the Moon
For an hour after sunset on Sunday, November 19, look low in the western sky for the young crescent moon sitting 8.5 degrees to the right of Mercury – both objects embedded in the twilight's glow.
Monday, November 20 early evening - Saturn near the Crescent Moon
In the southwestern early evening sky on Monday, November 20, the young crescent moon will be visible only 2.5 degrees to the upper right of yellowish Saturn, making a lovely sight in binoculars.
Thursday, November 23 early evening - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
On the evening of Thursday, November 23, Mercury will reach its widest separation east of the Sun. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a waning gibbous phase.
Sunday, November 26 12:03 p.m. EST - First Quarter Moon
At first quarter, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see the moon half illuminated - on the western (right-hand) side. First quarter moons rise around noon and set around midnight, so they are visible starting in the afternoon 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 orbit around Earth since the last new moon.
Tuesday, November 28 after sunset - Mercury meets Saturn
Look very low in the western sky for about half an hour after sunset on Tuesday, November 28 to see Mercury sitting three degrees to the lower left of Saturn.
During November, Mercury delivers a poor evening apparition for observers in mid-northern latitudes worldwide, never climbing very high in the sky due to its position below an already shallow evening ecliptic. Viewed through a telescope during November, Mercury's disk will nearly double in diameter and reduce in phase from almost full to less than half illuminated. It is at peak visibility after reaching its greatest angle east of the sun on November 23. For an hour after sunset on Sunday, November 19, look low in the western sky for the young crescent moon sitting 8.5 degrees to the right of Mercury. In the last week of the month, Mercury passes a few degrees below Saturn.
Extremely bright Venus remains visible in the eastern pre-dawn sky during November, but drops steadily lower as it swings sunwards – passing a few degrees to the left of the bright star Spica on November 2-3. Throughout the month, Venus exhibits a nearly full phase. On the mornings surrounding Monday, November 13, Venus will pass very close to Jupiter.
At only 0.25 degrees apart at closest approach, the two planets will fit within the field of view of a backyard telescope's eyepiece. Before sunrise on November 17, the old crescent moon will land 4 degrees to the left of Venus.
During November Mars, moving prograde through Virgo, climbs away from the sun in the eastern pre-dawn sky. Still quite small and dim, the red planet will brighten slightly as it slowly decreases its distance from Earth. On November 14 and 15, the waning crescent moon will pass to the left of Mars.
Fresh from solar conjunction, Jupiter is visible in the predawn eastern sky in November, moving prograde from Virgo into Libra on November 15. During mornings in mid-month, Jupiter will be very close to Venus, reaching a minimum separation of 0.25 degrees on Monday, November 13. At that time, the two planets will fit together within the field of view of a backyard telescope's eyepiece. The waning crescent moon hops over Jupiter on November 16-17.
Saturn spends November as a naked eye object in the southwestern evening sky. It sets about 8:30 pm local time on the 1stand 5:45 pm by month end, when it has entered the evening twilight. On November 18, Saturn departs the stars of southern Ophiuchus for Sagittarius, where it will remain until early 2020. In early evening on Monday, November 20, the young crescent moon will be situated only 2.5 degrees to the upper right of Saturn, making a lovely sight in binoculars.
During November, Uranus is well-placed for all-night observing as it moves retrograde (westwards) between the two chains of stars that link the fishes of Pisces. At visual magnitude 5.7, Uranus is bright enough to observe in binoculars, sometimes visible even to naked eyes under dark skies. The naked eye star Omicron Piscium, located about 2.5 degrees to the planet's lower left, will aid you in finding the blue-green planet.
During November, tiny blue Neptune is observable using a telescope until the middle of the night. Among the stars of Aquarius all month, it moves retrograde (westwards) until November 22, when it resumes regular prograde motion. The naked eye star Hydor, located only 0.5 degrees above the planet, will aid you in finding it.
In late October, the major asteroid (2) Pallas reached opposition, when it was closest to Earth and brightest for this year. In November, it is visible in a backyard telescope as it moves southwestward through the stars of Eridanus towards Fornax, which is low in the southern sky.
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.