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.
Yearly Night Sky Guides:
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Tuesday, January 1 pre-dawn — Old Moon over Venus
In the southeastern sky before dawn on Tuesday, January 1, the old moon's slim crescent will be situated 5 degrees (about a palm's width) to the upper right of very bright Venus. Venus will rise after the moon, at about 4 a.m. local time, and then the duo should remain visible while the dawn sky brightens toward sunrise at 8 a.m. Through the morning, the moon's eastward orbital motion will carry it closer to Venus, allowing sharp-eyed observers to spot Venus in the daytime using the moon as a guide.
Thursday, January 3 at 5:00 GMT — Earth at Perihelion
On Thursday, January 3, the Earth will reach perihelion, its closest point to the sun for the year. On that date our distance to the sun will be 91,403,554 miles (147,099,761 km). As winter-chilled Northern Hemisphere dwellers will attest, our daily temperatures are not controlled by our proximity to the sun, but by the number of hours of daylight we experience.
Thursday, January 3 pre-dawn — Very Old Moon meets Jupiter
In the southeastern sky for an hour or so before dawn on Thursday, January 3, the delicate sliver of the old moon will be positioned three degrees to the left of Jupiter. The pair of objects will rise almost simultaneously at about 5:30 a.m. local time and will be visible together in binoculars (orange circle).
Thursday, January 3 overnight — Quadrantids Meteor Shower Peak
Named for a now defunct constellation near the north celestial pole called the Mural Quadrant, the annual Quadrantid meteor shower runs from December 30th to January 12th. This is one of the most reliable showers of the year, producing up to 100 meteors per hour at the peak. Many are bright fireballs owing to the shower's source, an asteroid designated 2003EH. The shower will peak on Thursday evening, while the Earth is traversing the thickest part of the debris field, but the best time for viewing will be before dawn on Friday morning, when the shower's radiant will be high in the northeastern sky. The moon will be out of the night sky at the shower's peak, greatly increasing the number of meteors one can see.
Friday, January 4 before sunrise — Nearly New Moon above Mercury
Low in the east-southeastern sky shortly before sunrise on Friday, January 4, the very thin crescent of the almost new moon will be positioned 2.75 degrees above Mercury. The best time to see the pair will be around 7:00-7:15 a.m. local time.
Saturday, January 5 at 8:41 p.m. EST — New Moon and Partial Solar Eclipse
When at its new phase, the moon is traveling between Earth and the Sunday Since sunlight can only reach the side of the moon facing away from Earth, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, our natural satellite will be completely hidden from view for about a day. This new moon will occur when the moon is close to the ecliptic, generating a partial solar eclipse. The Moon's shadow for this partial solar eclipse will first make contact with the Earth in Sichuan Province, China. It will then sweep north into eastern Siberia and south through the Aleutian Islands before ending the eclipse in the North Pacific Ocean. First contact will occur at 0:27 GMT on January 6. Greatest eclipse will occur near Srednekolymsk at 01:41:28 GMT, at which time 71 percent of the Sun's diameter will be covered. Last contact will occur at 03:12 GMT. Proper solar filters will be required to view any of this eclipse in person. For those watching online, the eclipse will run from 7:27 pm EST to 10:12 pm EST on January 5, with greatest eclipse occurring at 8:41:28 EST.
Sunday, January 6 pre-dawn — Venus at Greatest Angle West of the Sun
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Sunday, January 6, Venus will reach its greatest separation of 47 degrees west of the sun for its current morning appearance. In a telescope, Venus will show a half-illuminated disk (inset). Due to its extreme brightness of -4.56, the planet will be visible from 4 a.m. local time until close to sunrise.
Sunday, January 6 evening — Uranus Stands Still
On Sunday, January 6, the distant blue-green planet Uranus will complete a westward retrograde loop that began in early August, and temporarily cease its motion through the distant stars of Pisces. After tonight, the planet will resume regular eastward orbital motion. The magnitude +5.77 planet can be seen in binoculars under dark skies. To help you find it, Uranus will be sitting 1.25 degrees (a thumb's width) above the medium–bright star Omicron Piscium. Both the planet and star will fit within the field of view of a telescope at low magnification (orange circle).
Thursday, January 10 early evening — Crescent Moon near Neptune
During early evening in the southwestern sky on Thursday, January 10, the waxing crescent moon will land 3 degrees to the lower left of dim, distant Neptune. As a second positional aid for finding Neptune, the medium-bright star Lambda Aquarii (Hydor) will be situated 2.5 degrees to the lower right of Neptune. All three objects will fit in the field of view of binoculars (orange circle). Try to find Neptune ahead of 7 p.m. local time, before it drops very low in the sky.
Saturday, January 12 evening – Half Moon near Mars
In the southwestern sky after dusk on Saturday, January 12, the nearly half-illuminated moon will pass 5 degrees (about a palm's width) to the lower left of medium-bright, reddish Mars. By the time the duo sets at about 11:30 p.m. local time, the sky's rotation will carry the moon higher and to the planet's left.
Monday, January 14 at 1:45 a.m. EST — First Quarter Moon
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. A first quarter moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight local time, so it is also visible in the afternoon daytime sky. The evenings around first quarter are the best times to look at the lunar terrain while it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight.
Thursday, January 17 evening — Gibbous Moon near Aldebaran
In the southeastern sky on the evening of January 17, the waxing gibbous moon will be located less than 4 degrees (four finger widths) to the lower left of the bright, orange star Aldebaran in Taurus. During the remainder of the night, the moon will move (green line) farther away from the star, and the sky's rotation will lift the moon higher than Aldebaran. For skywatchers in Europe, in early evening, the moon will pass directly through Taurus's triangular face and appear much closer to Aldebaran.
Monday, January 21 at 12:16 a.m. EST – A Full Wolf Supermoon and Total Lunar Eclipse
The January full moon, known as the Wolf Moon, Old Moon, or Moon after Yule, always shines in or near the stars of Gemini or Cancer. It rises at sunset and sets at sunrise, and the position of the ecliptic on winter nights causes January moons to culminate very high in the night sky. This full moon occurs fifteen hours before perigee, the point in the moon's orbit when it is closest to Earth, making it a supermoon, and generating high tides globally. This full moon will occur while the moon is on the ecliptic, producing a total lunar eclipse which will begin when the moon contacts the Earth's shadow at 10:34 p.m. EST on Saturday evening. The moon will pass deeply through the Earth's northern umbral shadow, extending totality to 1h02m in duration, and darkening the moon's southern half much more than its northern half. At greatest eclipse, which occurs at 12:13 a.m. EST, the moon will be 7 degrees west of Messier 44 (The Beehive Cluster). The partial phase of the eclipse will end at 1:51 a.m. EST. The entire eclipse will be visible from North and South America, the eastern Pacific Ocean, and westernmost Europe.
Monday, January 21 dawn and dusk — Full Moon Buzzes the Beehive
In the western sky before dawn on Monday, January 21, the waning gibbous moon will be situated less than 4 degrees to the lower right (west) of the large open star cluster known as the Beehive (also designated Messier 44) in Cancer. Both objects will fit within the field of view of a telescope at low magnification (orange circle), although the bright moonlight will obscure the cluster's dimmer stars. During the course of the day, the moon's eastward orbital motion will carry it closely past the cluster — and after the moon rises in the east at 6 p.m. local time, it will be positioned about a palm's width to the lower left (east) of the Beehive cluster, allowing skywatchers to see their meet-up twice in the same day.
Tuesday, January 22 pre-dawn — Venus Overtakes Jupiter
When very bright Venus rises from the southeastern horizon at around 4:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, January 22, the planet Jupiter will be positioned only 2.5 degrees to Venus' lower right. They will both fit within the field of view of binoculars (orange circle). Both Jupiter and Venus will be travelling eastward during the third week of January, but Venus' faster motion will cause it to catch, and then overtake, the more distant planet, pairing them up for several mornings on either side of January 22.
Sunday, January 27 at 4:10 pm EST — 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 Sunday Last quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sunday 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.
Thursday, January 31 pre-dawn — Old Moon Visits Pre-dawn Planets
For the second time during January, the old moon will visit the pre-dawn planets Jupiter and Venus. This time, in the southeastern pre-dawn sky of Thursday, January 31, the old crescent moon will land between them — sitting 2.5 degrees to the upper right of bright Venus and 5.5 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. And, just after 6 a.m. local time, Saturn will rise to sit 21 degrees (or two fist diameters) to the lower left of the moon. The pretty chain of objects along the ecliptic (green line) should remain visible in the growing twilight until approximately 7 a.m. local time. Later that morning, the moon's orbital motion will carry it closer to Venus, allowing skywatchers to find Venus in broad daylight. Observers in eastern Micronesia, Polynesia (except Hawaii), Galapagos Is., southern Central America, and northwestern South America will see the moon occult Venus in daylight.
Mercury will open January in the eastern pre-dawn sky, but after mid-December's greatest western elongation, Mercury will already on its way downward and toward the sun, limiting its visibility to a short period after 7 am local time during the first half of the month. On January 4, the very old crescent moon will land less than 3 degrees above Mercury. For the rest of the month, Mercury will move towards superior conjunction with the sun on January 30. At the same time, Mercury will wax towards a completely full phase and shrink in apparent disk diameter from 5.2" to 4.8".
During January, Venus will shine brightly in the eastern pre-dawn sky, remaining visible until just before sunrise due to its brilliance. The planet will pass from Libra into Scorpius on January 10, and then transition into southern Ophiuchus after mid-month. On January 6, the planet will reach its greatest angle west of the sun, when it will shine at a maximum brilliance for the year (magnitude -4.6) and will exhibit a 50 percent illuminated, 25 arc-second diameter disk. For the rest of January, Venus will slowly wax in phase (to 62 percent), and shrink in apparent diameter to 19.3 arc-seconds. The old moon will land 4.5 degrees to the west (upper right) of Venus. On January 22, Venus' more rapid eastward motion will overtake Jupiter, appearing 2.3 degrees north (above) of the giant planet. The duo will fit into the field of view of binoculars and widefield telescopes. To end the month, the old moon will return on January 31 to sit 2 degrees west (to the upper right) of Venus. Observers in eastern Micronesia, Polynesia (except Hawaii), Galapagos Is., southern Central America, and northwest South America will see the moon occult Venus. In North America, the moon will aid in finding Venus during the morning daylight hours.
The year 2019 will be a poor one for observing Mars. During January, the red planet will remain well-positioned for viewing in the southwestern evening sky as a medium-bright, reddish, naked-eye object because the evening ecliptic has lifted it higher, and also because it is travelling rapidly eastward through Pisces while the stars shift west every evening. Mars will start the month at its peak brightness for 2019 of magnitude +0.48 and a maximum apparent disk diameter of 7.38 arc-seconds. But Earth's increasing distance to the planet will dim it to +0.88 and shrink it to 6.14 arc-seconds on January 31. The waxing crescent moon will pass 5 degrees to the south (to the lower left) of Mars on January 12.
Jupiter, recently past opposition, will spend January low in the southeastern pre-dawn sky among the stars of southern Ophiuchus. The magnitude -1.77 planet will rise two hours before the sun (at 5:52 am local time) on January 1 and 3.5 hours ahead (at 4:12 am) at month's end. The old crescent moon will land 3 degrees northeast (to the left) of Jupiter on January 3. The planet will pass 15 arc-minutes north of the bright globular cluster NGC6235 on January 16, setting up a nice photo opportunity. On January 22, Venus' more rapid eastward motion will overtake Jupiter, placing it 2.3 degrees north of (above) the giant planet. The duo will fit into the field of view of binoculars and widefield telescopes. The old moon will return to hop past Jupiter on January 30 and 31.
Saturn will reach conjunction with the sun on January 2, and it won't become a reasonable observing target, in the eastern pre-dawn sky, until well after mid-month, when it will start to rise before 7 am local time. Saturn will spend all of 2019 in Sagittarius.
Blue-green Uranus (magnitude 5.76) will spend January among the stars of eastern Pisces, slowly moving westward until its retrograde loop ends on January 6. Uranus will be very well positioned for evening observing all month long, holding a position more than halfway up the southern and southwestern sky as soon as it's full dark. Although Uranus may be seen with the naked eye in a very dark sky, binoculars or a small telescope will make seeing it relatively easy. The magnitude +4.25 star Omicron Piscium will aid you in finding Uranus for the first part of the year. On January 1, Uranus will sit 1.25 degrees northeast of (above) that star. The separation will increase only slightly by month's end.
For January, deep blue Neptune will be visible in the western sky during early evening. The distant planet will spend the month moving eastward through the stars of Aquarius. The planet will be framed within the triangle formed by the naked eye stars Lambda, Psi, and Phi Aquarii. It will begin January sitting 2.3 degrees east of Lambda and steadily drift eastward to appoint midway between Lambda and Phi on January 31.
Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50 percent 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.