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
Sunday, October 1 - Bright Moon beside Jupiter (all night)
On Sunday night, October 1, the bright, waning gibbous moon will shine close enough to the very bright planet Jupiter for them to share the view in binoculars (orange circle). The duo will rise in the east at around 8 p.m. local time and then cross the sky all night long. By sunrise on Monday morning, the moon and Jupiter will be positioned high in the west. By then Jupiter will be positioned a palm’s width below the moon.
Monday, October 2 - Moon between Uranus and the Pleiades (all night)
In the eastern sky on Monday evening, October 2, use your binoculars to view the scattered stars of the Pleiades cluster (also known as Messier 45) twinkling just a few finger widths to the left (or 2 degrees to the celestial north) of the bright, waning gibbous moon. The cluster, which covers a patch of sky several times larger than the moon, will be a challenge to see against the bright moon's glare. Instead, hide the moon beyond the lower right edge of your binoculars' field of view. Skywatchers viewing the scene later, or in more westerly time zones, will see the moon tucked in closer below the cluster. The bright planet Jupiter will shine off to the moon’s upper right. The magnitude 5.7 blue-green dot of Uranus, which is also visible in binoculars, will be positioned about midway between the moon and Jupiter.
Tuesday, October 3 - View Rupes Altai (all night)
On Tuesday night, October 3, the curved terminator on the moon will fall just to the right (or lunar east) of a large, curved escarpment on the moon known as Rupes Altai, making that feature especially easy to see with sharp eyes and through binoculars and telescopes. The cliff, which climbs up to 0.6 miles or 1 km above the lunar surface, is actually part of the rim of ancient Mare Nectaris. Its curve runs parallel to the edge of that large, dark basin, which will appear to its upper right (lunar northeast), partly in shadow.
Watch for the large crater named Piccolomini straddling the southeastern end of the cliff. Rupes Altai is highlighted every lunar month when the waxing moon is about 5 days past new and again when the waning moon is approaching third quarter.
Friday, October 6 - Third Quarter Moon (at 13:48 GMT)
The moon will complete three quarters of its orbit around Earth, measured from the previous new moon, on Friday, October 6 at 9:48 a.m. EDT, 6:48 a.m. PDT, or 13:48 GMT. At the third (or last) quarter phase the moon appears half-illuminated, on its western, sunward side. It will rise around midnight local time, and then remain visible until it sets in the western daytime sky in early afternoon. Third 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. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase are the best ones for observing fainter deep sky targets.
Saturday, October 7 - The Dolphin Swims the Southern Sky (all night)
During the evening in early October, the small constellation of Delphinus is positioned high in the southern sky. Look for its five 4th magnitude stars shining just to the lower left (or celestial southeast) of the line connecting the very bright stars Deneb and Altair. According to Greek legend, Poseidon, god of the seas, was assisted in a matter of the heart by a friendly dolphin, so he rewarded it with a place of honor in the heavens.
Delphinus' brightest two stars are bluish Sualocin, at the top of its head, and whitish Rotanev, at the nape of its neck. Those funny appellations are actually the name of 19th-century astronomer Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Gamma Delphinus, the star marking the dolphin’s nose, is a close-together double star with one component a greenish color. Despite swimming close to the Milky Way, Delphinus' only prominent deep sky objects are two globular clusters designated NGC 7006 and NGC 6934, which are also numbers C42 and C47, respectively on Sir Patrick Moore’s Caldwell List.
Sunday, October 8 - The Andromeda Galaxy (all night)
In October, the Andromeda Galaxy is climbing the northeastern sky during evening. This large spiral galaxy, also designated Messier 31 and NGC 224, is 2.5 million light years from us, and covers an area of sky measuring 3 by 1 degrees (or six by two full moon diameters)! Under dark skies, M31 can be seen with unaided eyes as a faint smudge located 1.4 fist diameters to the left (or 14 degrees to the celestial northeast) of Alpheratz, the star that forms the left-hand (northwestern) corner of the square of Pegasus.
The three westernmost stars of Cassiopeia, Caph, Shedar, and Navi (Gamma Cas), also conveniently form an arrow that points towards M31. Binoculars will reveal the galaxy better. In a telescope, use low magnification and look for M31's two smaller companion galaxies, the foreground Messier 32 and more distant Messier 110 (inset).
Tuesday, October 10 - Crescent moon near Venus and Regulus (pre-dawn)
For several mornings surrounding October 9, the very bright planet Venus will travel past Leo's brightest star Regulus in the eastern sky (dotted red path). A pretty sight will greet early risers on Tuesday morning, October 10 when the crescent of the old moon will shine close to the duo for a few hours before sunrise. Regulus will sparkle between the moon and the planet. All three objects will look terrific in binoculars and make a nice photo when composed with some interesting foreground scenery.
Thursday, October 12 - Morning Zodiacal Light for Mid-Northern Observers (pre-dawn)
During autumn at mid-northern latitudes every year, the ecliptic (green line) extends nearly vertically upward from the eastern horizon before dawn. That geometry favors the appearance of the faint zodiacal light in the eastern sky for about half an hour before dawn on moonless mornings. Zodiacal light is sunlight scattered by interplanetary particles that are concentrated in the plane of the solar system - the same material that produces meteor showers. It is more readily seen in areas free of urban light pollution.
Between now until the full moon on October 28, look for a broad wedge of faint light extending upwards from the eastern horizon and centered on the ecliptic. It will be strongest in the lower third of the sky, below the bright planet Venus. Try taking a long exposure photograph to capture the zodiacal light, but don’t confuse it with the Milky Way, which is positioned nearby in the southern sky
Thursday, October 12 - Medusa's Eye Pulses (at 8:24 p.m. EDT)
In the constellation of Perseus, Algol, also designated Beta Persei, marks the glowing eye of Medusa from Greek mythology. The star is among the most accessible variable stars for skywatchers. During a ten-hour period that repeats every 2 days, 20 hours, and 49 minutes, Algol dims noticeably and re-brightens by about a third. This happens when a fainter companion star with an orbit nearly edge-on to Earth crosses in front of its much brighter primary, reducing the total light output we perceive.
Algol normally shines at magnitude 2.1, similar to the nearby star Almach (aka Gamma Andromedae). But when fully dimmed, Algol's brightness of magnitude 3.4 is almost identical to Rho Persei (or Gorgonea Tertia or ρ Per), the star sitting just two finger widths to Algol’s lower right (or 2.25 degrees to the celestial south). On Thursday evening, October 12 at 8:24 p.m. EDT or 00:24 GMT, Algol will be at its minimum brightness. At that time it will be located in the lower part of the northeastern sky. Five hours later the star will return to full intensity from a perch nearly overhead.
Saturday, October 14 - New Moon and Annular Solar Eclipse (at 17:59 GMT)
Skywatchers in the Americas (except Alaska and the southern tip of South America) and the surrounding portions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans will be treated to a solar eclipse when the moon passes the sun at new moon on Saturday, October 14. Since the moon will have reached apogee several days earlier, it will still be far enough from the Earth and small enough not to completely block the sun's disk, resulting in an annular solar eclipse, or "ring of fire."
The narrow track where true annularity will be visible will begin near Eugene, Oregon at 16:15:52 GMT or 9:15:52 a.m. PDT. From there the annular eclipse will sweep southeast through parts of Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and western Texas – treating Corpus Christi to annularity for 5 minutes centred on 16:58:17 GMT or 11:58:17 a.m. CDT. The ring will next pass over the Yucatan Peninsula and portions of Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, then Colombia south of Bogota and central Brazil. It will move offshore at Natal, Brazil at 19:47:29 GMT or 4:47:29 p.m. BRT, about half an hour before the sun and moon set in the west. The regions surrounding the annularity track will see a partial solar eclipse. Exact times for your location can be obtained from astronomy apps like Starry Night and SkySafari. No part of this solar eclipse will be safe to look at without proper protective solar filters.
Sunday, October 15 - Razor-thin Crescent Moon near Mars (after sunset)
Above the western horizon after sunset on Sunday, October 15, the very slim crescent of the moon will be positioned two finger widths (or 2 degrees) from Mars. At mid-northern latitudes the duo will be very hard to spot in the twilit sky. From there, Mars will be located to the moon’s right. Observers at tropical latitudes and farther south will see the duo much more easily, with Mars located to the moon’s lower right. Regardless of viewing location, they'll be cozy enough to share the view in binoculars (orange circle), but don’t point optical aids in their direction until the sun has completely set.
Wednesday, October 18 - Crescent Moon in the Scorpion’s Claws (after dusk)
After dusk on Wednesday, October 18 look a short distance above the southwestern horizon to see the pretty waxing crescent moon shining several finger widths to the upper left of the bring reddish star Antares, the heart of Scorpius. They'll share the field of view of your binoculars (orange circle) until they set around 8 p.m. local time. Hours earlier, observers in southwestern Asia can watch the moon pass in front of (or occult) Antares. For those in the Azores, eastern Canary Islands, most of Europe (except northern Scandinavia), most of northern Africa, and the rest of the Middle East, the occultation will occur in daytime.
Friday, October 20 - Double Shadow Transit on Jupiter (06:00 to 07:40 GMT)
Early on Friday morning, October 20 observers with telescopes in the Americas can watch the round black shadows of two of Jupiter's moons cross the giant planet together for more than 90 minutes. Io's small shadow will begin its trip across Jupiter's equator at 1:41 a.m. EDT or 5:41 GMT. Ganymede's much larger shadow will appear in Jupiter’s southern polar region at 2 a.m. EDT or 06:00 GMT. They'll cross together until Ganymede's shadow moves off the planet at 3:40 a.m. EDT or 07:40 GMT, leaving Io's shadow to complete its crossing about 10 minutes later.
Saturday, October 21 - Orionids Meteor Shower Peak (pre-dawn)
The annual Orionid meteor shower is produced when the Earth crosses through a cloud of small particles dropped by repeated passages of Comet Halley in its orbit. Viewed in a dark sky during the peak of the shower, 10 to 20 bright and fast-moving meteors are usually seen each hour. Although this shower is active from September 26 to November 22, it will peak in the Americas on the evening of Saturday, October 21, when Earth will be crossing the densest region of the particle field.
Start watching for Orionids after dusk on Saturday night, especially after the half-illuminated moon sets around 11:30 p.m. The very best viewing time for the Americas will be before dawn on Sunday morning, October 22 when the sky overhead will be plowing directly into the particle cloud. Orionids meteors will appear anywhere in the sky, but they can be traced back to their radiant in the constellation of Orion.
Sunday, October 22- First Quarter Moon (at 03:29 GMT)
The moon will complete the first quarter of its journey around Earth on Sunday, October 22 at 03:29 GMT. That translates to Saturday, October 21 at 11:29 p.m. EDT or 8:29 p.m. PDT. At first quarter, the moon's 90 degree angle from the sun will cause us to see it half-illuminated - on its eastern side, and shining near the Teapot-shaped stars of Sagittarius after dusk.
At first quarter, the moon always rises around mid-day and sets around midnight, so it is also visible in the afternoon daytime sky, too. The evenings surrounding first quarter are the best ones for seeing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight, especially along the terminator, the pole-to-pole boundary that separates the lit and dark hemispheres.
Monday, October 23 - Venus at Greatest Western Elongation (pre-dawn)
On Monday, October 23, Venus will reach its greatest separation, 46.5 degrees west of the sun, for its current morning appearance. The very bright, magnitude -4.5 planet will be shining in the eastern sky from the time it rises at about 3:30 a.m. local time until dawn. Viewed through a telescope, Venus will show a waxing, half-illuminated disk (inset) spanning 24.2 arc-seconds.
Tuesday, October 24 - Bright Moon near Saturn (evening)
After dusk on Tuesday evening, October 24, look in the lower part of the southern sky for Saturn’s yellowish dot shining almost a fist's diameter to the upper right (or 9 degrees to the celestial west) of the waxing gibbous moon. By the time Saturn sets in the west-southwest around 2:15 a.m. local time, the diurnal rotation of the sky will have lifted the moon to Saturn's upper left and somewhat farther from the planet. On the previous evening, Saturn will shine to the upper left of the moon.
Wednesday, October 25 - Crater Copernicus (all night)
The nights starting on Wednesday, October 25 will be particularly good for viewing the prominent crater Copernicus, which is located in eastern Oceanus Procellarum, the dark region located due south of Mare Imbrium and slightly northwest of the moon’s centre. This 800 million year old impact scar is visible with unaided eyes and binoculars – but telescope views will reveal many more interesting aspects of lunar geology.
Several nights before the moon reaches its full phase, Copernicus exhibits heavily terraced edges (due to slumping), an extensive ejecta blanket outside the crater rim, a complex central peak, and both smooth and rough terrain on the crater's floor. Around full moon, Copernicus' ray system, extending 500 miles (800 km) in all directions, becomes prominent. Use high magnification to look around Copernicus for small craters with bright floors and black haloes - impacts through Copernicus' white ejecta that excavated dark Oceanus Procellarum basalt and even deeper highlands anorthosite.
Saturday, October 28 - Full Hunter’s Moon Partially Eclipsed near Jupiter (at 20:24 GMT)
The full moon of October will occur at 4:24 p.m. EDT, 1:24 p.m. PDT, or 20:24 GMT, on Saturday, October 28. This full moon is traditionally called the Hunter's Moon, Blood Moon, or Sanguine Moon. The Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes region call it Binaakwe-giizis, the Falling Leaves Moon, or Mshkawji-giizis, the Freezing Moon. The Cree Nation of central Canada calls it Opimuhumowipesim, the Migrating Moon - the month when birds are migrating. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois / Mohawk) of Eastern North America use Kentenha, the Time of Poverty Moon. Full moons in October always shine in or near the stars of Cetus and Pisces.
This full moon will partly dip into Earth's shadow, producing a partial lunar eclipse visible across Africa, Europe, and Asia. Observers there will see a small bite out of the moon’s southern limb between 19:35 and 20:53 GMT, with a maximum of 12% of the moon's diameter inside Earth's shadow at 20:15 GMT. Lunar eclipses are safe to photograph and view without eye protection. Watch for the bright planet Jupiter shining close enough to the lower left of the moon for them to share the view in binoculars (orange circle).
Sunday, October 29 - Bright Moon Points to Uranus (all night)
A short time after the bright, still very full moon clears the treetops in the northeastern sky on Sunday evening, October 29, the planet Uranus will be situated less than three lunar diameters below it, or 1.6 degrees to the moon’s south-southeast. As the pair cross the night sky together, the moon's easterly orbital motion will carry it farther from Uranus and diurnal rotation will shift the moon above the planet in the hours before dawn.
While the blue, magnitude 5.6 ice giant planet is normally easy to see in binoculars and backyard telescopes, so much bright moonlight next door will make that difficult. Uranus will occupy the sky between Jupiter and the bright Pleiades star cluster for some time, so look for the distant planet on nights when the moon isn't around.
Monday, October 30 - Moon below the Pleiades (predawn)
As the morning sky begins to brighten on Monday, October 30, use your binoculars to view the scattered stars of the Pleiades cluster (also known as Messier 45, Subaru, and the Seven Sisters) located a few finger widths above the moon in the western sky. The brighter sky will reduce the moon's glare, allowing the seven sister stars, which are spread over an area near four times larger than the moon, to be seen more easily.
Tuesday, October 31 - The Spooky Owl Cluster (all night)
One of my favorite spooky objects can be seen in binoculars or a backyard telescope on autumn evenings. It's one of the many bright, open star clusters in the W-shaped of Cassiopeia, the Queen, which you'll find in the northeastern sky. NGC 457, better known as the Owl Cluster, ET Cluster, or Dragonfly Cluster, is dominated by two prominent, close-together, yellow stars (Phi Cas and HD 7902) that form the eyes, a sprinkling of dimmer stars for the body and feet, and two curved chains of stars that look like upswept wings (inset).
The critter is positioned with its head pointing away from Cassiopeia, which circles the north celestial pole, so it rotates through the night. The cluster occupies the 90 degree corner of a right-angle triangle that is completed by the stars Gamma Cas and Ruchbah. It’s about two finger widths above (or 2 degrees to the celestial south-southwest of) Ruchbah – as if the queen is bouncing the baby owl on her knee!
Visible planets in October
As October begins, the magnitude -1.0 planet Mercury will be visible above the eastern horizon for a short time before sunrise - but its daily drift sunward through Virgo will soon hide it from view. After it passes the sun at superior conjunction on October 20, the speedy planet will commence a poor evening apparition for mid-northern latitude observers, but a good showing for those in the tropics and farther south, where telescope views will show its fully illuminated, 4.7 arc-seconds-wide disk.
The brilliant planet Venus will continue to dominate the eastern pre-dawn sky during October. At the beginning of the month, the magnitude -4.7 “morning star” will rise around 3:15 a.m. local time. In a telescope it will display a waxing crescent phase and an apparent disk diameter of 31.7 arc-seconds. With each passing day, Venus will grow in illuminated phase and shrink in size while diminishing in brightness.
Venus will spend all of October traveling prograde eastward through Leo, passing 2 degrees south Leo's brightest star, Regulus on the nights surrounding October 9. The pretty, waning crescent moon will pose to Venus’ upper left (or celestial north) on October 10. On October 23, Venus will reach its greatest separation of 46.5 degrees from the sun. At the end of October, Venus will be rising around 3:30 a.m. local time, shining at magnitude -4.4, and exhibiting a 22.3 arc-seconds-wide disk and a slightly gibbous phase in backyard telescopes.
Mars will spend October positioned just above the western horizon after sunset while it steadily approaches the sun. The magnitude 1.6 planet will be very hard to see from northern latitudes, but it should be visible from the tropics or farther south. Skywatchers there can try to spot the very slim crescent of the young moon positioned two finger widths above Mars (or 2 degrees to the east) on October 15.
The brilliant planet Jupiter will be travelling retrograde westward through the stars of southern Aries during October, in preparation for its opposition on November 3. On October 1 the magnitude -2.8 planet will rise around 8 p.m. local time along with the bright, waning gibbous moon, then cross the sky to gleam high in the west before sunrise. For the rest of the month Jupiter will appear 4 minutes earlier per night, eventually shining from dusk to dawn. Over the month, Jupiter will brighten a little and grow in apparent size from 48 to 50 arc-seconds.
Binoculars will reveal Jupiter's four large Galilean moons flanking the planet. A backyard telescope will show its equatorial bands. A better quality instrument will reveal the Great Red Spot every 2nd or 3rd night, Jupiter's Galilean satellites frequently eclipsing and occulting one another, and the passages of the round, black shadows they cast upon the planet.
Early on the morning of October 20 observers with telescopes in the Americas can watch the shadows of Io and Ganymede cross the giant planet together for more than 90 minutes. The full moon will return to pose just north of Jupiter on October 28.
More than a month past opposition, the prominent, creamy-yellow dot of Saturn will shine well above the southeastern horizon after dusk as October begins. The magnitude 0.6 ringed planet will culminate due south in late evening and then set during the wee hours of the morning. Saturn will be travelling retrograde westward through western Aquarius all month long - with faint Neptune following 25 degrees to its east. Viewed in a telescope during October Saturn will show an apparent disk diameter of 18.3 arc-seconds, and its rings will subtend 42.5 arc-seconds.
Saturn's rings will be tilting more edge-on to Earth every year until the spring of 2025 and are already noticeably less wide. Quality optics and good seeing conditions will allow you to see the dark, narrow Cassini Division in the rings and the enlarging wedge of shadow that Saturn’s globe casts upon them. Watch for a handful of Saturn's moons arrayed as tiny dots around the planet. The bright, waxing gibbous moon will hop past Saturn on October 23-24.
During October blue-green Uranus will be moving slowly retrograde west through the stars of eastern Aries and following far brighter Jupiter across the night sky. On October 1, their separation will be 8.3 degrees, but Jupiter’s faster retrograde motion will widen that to 10.8 degrees on Halloween. The Pleiades Cluster will be positioned a similar distance to Uranus’ lower left (or celestial northeast).
As October begins, the magnitude 5.66 planet, which is visible in binoculars and backyard telescopes in a dark sky, will be rising at about 8:30 p.m. local time. At the end of the month, it will be appearing two hours earlier. Uranus' small, 3.8 arc-seconds-wide disk will best be seen in a telescope during the wee hours of the morning when the planet will be relatively high in the southern sky. On October 29, the waning gibbous moon will shine about 3 degrees to the left (or celestial north of) Uranus.
Just weeks past opposition, the distant, magnitude 7.8 planet Neptune will cross the night sky all night long during October, following much brighter Saturn, which will be shining about 24 degrees to Neptune’s upper left (or celestial west). Neptune will be moving slowly retrograde westward about 7 degrees below (south of) the circle of stars that forms Pisces’ western fish. Viewed in a large telescope, Neptune’s apparent disk size will be 2.35 arc-seconds. Its large moon Triton should be visible under good conditions.
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.