A clear night sky offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects to see — stars, constellations, and 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. Binoculars or a good beginner telescope will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. You can also use astronomy apps and software 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 and Chris at @Astrogeoguy.
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 [email protected]
Night Sky Guides:
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Monday, November 2 — Moon passes the Bull’s Face (all night)
On Monday, Nov. 2, the orbital motion (green line) of the waxing gibbous moon will carry it closely above the Hyades cluster — the collection of stars that form the triangular face of Taurus, the bull. The bright orange star Aldebaran, which marks the southern eye of the bull, will sit several finger widths below (or 4 degrees to the celestial south) of the moon. To better see the Hyades’ stars, many of which are doubles, hide the bright moon just above your binoculars’ field of view (red circle).
Wednesday, November 4 — Moon passes the Shoe-Buckle Cluster (all night)
After it rises in the early evening on Wednesday, Nov. 4, the waning gibbous moon will be positioned less than a lunar diameter below (or half a degree to the celestial south of) the large open star cluster designated Messier 35, or the Shoe-Buckle, in Gemini. During the rest of the night, the moon’s orbital motion (green line) will draw it away from the cluster. To better see the cluster’s stars, wait until they are higher in mid-evening, and then hide the bright moon just below the field of view of your binoculars (red circle).
Thursday, November 5 — Southern Taurids Meteor Shower Peak (after midnight)
Meteors from the Northern Taurids shower, which appear worldwide from September 23rd to Nov. 19 annually, will reach a peak of about 10 per hour on Thursday, Nov. 5. The long-lasting, weak shower is derived from debris dropped by the passage of periodic Comet 2P/Encke. The debris’ larger than average grain sizes often produce colorful fireballs. Although Earth will be traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train during mid-day in the Americas, the best viewing time will occur hours earlier, at around 1 a.m. local time, when the shower’s radiant, located in central Taurus, will be high in the southern sky. A bright, waning gibbous moon will shine all night long, somewhat spoiling the shower.
Sunday, November 8 — Last Quarter Moon (at 1346 GMT)
When it reaches its last quarter phase at 6:46 pm EST on Sunday, Nov. 8 (1346 GMT), the moon will rise at around midnight, and then remain visible in the southern sky all morning. At last quarter, 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. The week of moonless evening skies that follow last quarter will be ideal for observing deep sky targets.
Tuesday, November 10 — Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation (pre-dawn)
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the planet Mercury will reach a maximum angle of 19 degrees from the sun, and peak visibility for this morning apparition. Look for the swiftly-moving planet shining brightly very low in the east-southeastern sky between about 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. in your local time zone. In a telescope (inset) Mercury will exhibit a 58%-illuminated, waxing gibbous phase. Mercury’s position above the morning ecliptic (green line) will make this an excellent apparition for Northern Hemisphere observers, but a poor showing for those located near the Equator, and farther south.
Thursday, November 12 — Northern Taurids Meteor Shower Peak (after midnight)
Meteors from the Northern Taurids shower, which appear worldwide from Oct. 19 to Dec. 10 annually, will reach a peak of about 15 per hour on Thursday, Nov. 12. The long-lasting, weak shower is derived from debris dropped by the passage of periodic Comet 2P/Encke. The debris’ larger than average grain sizes often produce colorful fireballs. Although Earth will be traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train during mid-day in the Americas, the best viewing time will occur hours earlier, at around 1 a.m. local time, when the shower’s radiant, located in central Taurus, will be high in the southern sky. On the peak night, a waning crescent moon will rise around 4 a.m. local time, leaving the post-midnight sky dark for meteor watching.
Thursday, November 12 — Crescent Moon and Venus (pre-dawn)
In the eastern sky for about two hours preceding dawn on Thursday, Nov. 12, the old crescent moon will be positioned a palm’s width above (or 6 degrees to the celestial west of) the bright planet Venus — making a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery. The following morning, the moon’s orbital motion (green line) will carry it to Venus’ lower left.
Friday, November 13 — Crescent Moon between Mercury and Venus (pre-dawn)
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Friday, Nov. 13, the pretty, crescent moon will sit above Mercury and below much brighter Venus. Look for Virgo’s brightest star Spica, sitting off to the moon’s right, and the very bright star Arcturus way off to the upper left. The group will make a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery.
Sunday, November 15 — New Moon and Large Tides (at 0507 GMT)
At its new phase, the moon is travelling 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 become completely hidden from view. This new moon, occurring only 17 hours after perigee (the moon’s closest approach to Earth), will trigger large tides around the world.
Sunday, November 15 — Mars Reverses Direction (all night)
On Sunday, Nov. 15, Mars will cease its westward motion through the stars of Pisces, ending a retrograde loop (red path with labeled dates) that began in early September. From this point on, Mars will resume regular easterly prograde motion and pass out of Pisces in early January.
Tuesday, November 17 — Leonids Meteor Shower Peaks (all night)
The Leonids Meteor shower, derived from material left by repeated passages of periodic Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, runs from Nov. 5 to Dec. 3, annually. The peak of the shower, when up to 20 meteors per hour are predicted — many with persistent trains — will occur at 2300 GMT on Tuesday, Nov. 17 — when Earth will be traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train. For observers in the Americas, the best viewing times for Leonids are Tuesday and Wednesday morning before dawn, when the radiant in Leo will be high in the eastern sky. A young, crescent moon on the peak date will set after sunset, leaving the overnight sky nicely dark for meteors.
Wednesday, November 18 — Algol at Minimum Brightness (at 6:55 p.m. EST)
Algol, also designated Beta Persei, is among the most accessible variable stars for skywatchers. Its naked-eye brightness dims noticeably for about 10 hours once every 2 days, 20 hours, and 49 minutes because a dim companion star orbiting nearly edge-on to Earth crosses in front of the much brighter main star, reducing the total light output we receive. On Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:55 p.m. EST (2355 GMT), Algol will reach its minimum brightness of magnitude 3.4, which is almost exactly the same as the star Rho Persei that sits two finger widths to Algol’s right. At 6:55 p.m., for observers in the Eastern time zone, Algol will sit 40 degrees above the northeastern horizon. Five hours later, at 11:55 p.m. EST (0608 GMT), Algol will be high in the eastern sky, and will have brightened to its usual magnitude of 2.1.
Thursday, November 19 — Crescent Moon near Jupiter and Saturn (early evening)
In the southwestern sky for a few hours after sunset on Thursday, Nov. 19, the waxing crescent moon will pay its monthly visit to the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn — forming a squat triangle with dimmer Saturn at the top. The trio will make a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting foreground scenery.
Saturday, November 21 — First quarter Moon (at 11:45 p.m. EST)
When the moon completes the first quarter of its orbit around Earth at 11:45 p.m. EST on Saturday, Nov. 21 (0445 GMT on Nov. 22), the relative positions of the Earth, sun and moon will cause us to see it half-illuminated — on its eastern side. At first quarter, the moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight, so it is also visible in the afternoon daytime sky. The evenings surrounding first quarter are the best for seeing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight.
Monday, November 23 — The Lunar Straight Wall (evening)
On Monday evening, Nov. 23, the pole-to-pole terminator that divides the lit and dark hemispheres of the waxing gibbous moon, will fall just to the left (or lunar west) of Rupes Recta, also known as the Lunar Straight Wall. The rupes, Latin for “cliff”, is a north-south aligned fault scarp that extends for 65 miles (110 km) across the southeastern part of Mare Nubium, which sits in the lower third of the moon’s Earth-facing hemisphere. The wall, which is very easy to see in good binoculars and backyard telescopes, is most prominent a day or two after first quarter, and also the days before last quarter. For reference, the very bright crater Tycho is located due south of the Straight Wall.
Wednesday, November 25 — Bright Moon meets Mars (evening)
In the southeastern sky after dusk on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the waxing gibbous moon will be located a generous fist diameter to the right (or 5 degrees to the celestial southwest) of reddish Mars. The moon and Mars will cross the sky together until well after midnight. By then, the diurnal rotation of the sky, and the moon’s eastward orbital motion, will shift the moon to 10 degrees below Mars in the western sky.
Thursday, November 26 — Sinus Iridum’s Golden Handle (all night)
On Thursday night, Nov. 26, the pole-to-pole terminator that divides the lit and dark hemispheres of the waxing gibbous moon will fall to the left (or lunar west) of Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows. The circular, 155 mile (249 km) diameter feature is a large impact crater that was flooded by the same basalts that filled the much larger Mare Imbrium to its right (lunar east) — forming a rounded, handle-shape on the western edge of that mare. You can see it with sharp eyes — and easily in binoculars and backyard telescopes. The “Golden Handle” is produced when slanted sunlight brightly illuminates the eastern side of the prominent, curved Montes Jura mountain range that surrounds the bay on the top and left (north and west), and by a pair of protruding promontories named Heraclides and Laplace to the bottom and top, respectively. Sinus Iridum is almost craterless, but hosts a set of northeast-oriented dorsae or “wrinkle ridges” that are revealed under magnification at this phase.
Saturday, November 28 — Neptune Changes Course (evening)
On Saturday, Nov. 28, the distant, blue planet Neptune will complete a retrograde loop that has been carrying it westward through the stars of Aquarius since late June. After today, Neptune will resume its regular eastward motion (red path). From dark sky locations the magnitude 7.9 planet can be observed all evening in good binoculars and backyard telescopes — if you know where to find it. Search about a thumb’s width to the upper left (or 44 arc-minutes to the northeast) of the medium-bright star Phi Aquarii. Both the planet and the star will appear together in the field of view of a telescope at low magnification (red circle).
Monday, November 30 — Full Beaver Moon and Penumbral Lunar Eclipse (maximum at 0944 GMT)
The November full moon, traditionally known as the Beaver Moon or Frost Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Taurus and Aries. Full moons occurring during the winter months in North America will climb as high in the sky as the summer noonday sun, and cast similar shadows. This full moon’s orbital motion (green line) will carry it into Earth’s outer shadow, producing a penumbral eclipse that will be visible in its entirety across most of North and Central America, and northern Asia. The moon will first contact the shadow at 07:32:22 GMT. At greatest eclipse at 09:44:02 GMT, approximately 83% of the moon’s disk will be within the Earth’s southern penumbral shadow. The subtle darkening of the moon’s right-hand (northern) limb will be visible only within about 30 minutes of greatest eclipse. The eclipse will end at 11:53:26 GMT. South America and northern Europe will only see the early stages, while Australia, Southeast Asia, China, and parts of Russia will only see the latter stages.
For Northern Hemisphere observers, November will offer an excellent opportunity to view Mercury in the eastern pre-dawn sky; but it will be a poor apparition for those located near the Equator and farther south. During the first few days of the month, the speedy planet will still be climbing out of the morning twilight after inferior conjunction. But after that, Mercury’s position north of the steep morning ecliptic will allow skywatchers to see the planet shining in a dark sky. On Nov. 10, Mercury will reach a maximum angle of 19 degrees from the sun, and peak visibility — especially between about 5:45 and 6:30 a.m. in your local time zone. Then the planet will descend sunward for the balance of the month, becoming harder to see in the closing week. Mercury’s visual magnitude will increase throughout November. Since the planet is heading toward superior conjunction in December, telescope views during November will reveal a rapidly waxing gibbous phase that reaches 95% illuminated at month-end — and the planet’s apparent disk size will diminish from 9 to 5 arc-seconds as it moves farther from Earth. On Nov. 13, the pretty, crescent moon will sit above Mercury and below the brighter planet Venus, with bright Spica sitting to the moon’s right — making a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery.
During November, Venus will rise a few hours before dawn and shine at an extremely bright magnitude -3.9 in the eastern sky until sunrise. Meanwhile the planet will be slowly descending sunward, beginning the month in western Virgo, just 19 arc-minutes northeast of Eta Virginis, then passing close to Porrima on Nov. 5, and 4 degrees north of Spica on Nov. 16-17, and then crossing into Libra on Nov. 28. Viewed in a telescope during November, the planet will exhibit an 85%-illuminated, waxing gibbous phase and a mean apparent disk diameter of 12 arc-seconds. On Nov. 12, the pretty, crescent moon will sit a palm’s width above Venus. The following morning, the moon will descend to sit between Venus and much dimmer Mercury, with bright Spica positioned off to the moon’s right — making a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery.
During November, Mars will be conveniently positioned for observing from dusk until the wee hours — culminating at a healthy 51 degrees elevation above the southern horizon by late evening. As Earth leaves Mars behind following October’s close opposition, the red planet will fade by a full magnitude from -2.11 to -1.13 during November, and telescope views will show Mars’ apparent disk diameter shrinking from 19.9 to 14.6 arc-seconds. On Nov. 15, the red planet will complete a retrograde loop through Pisces that began in early September, and resume regular easterly motion — departing Pisces in early January. On Nov. 25, the waxing gibbous moon will sit 5 degrees to the southwest Mars.
During early November, Jupiter will shine in the lower part of the southwestern sky after dusk, allowing for decent telescope viewing for about an hour before it sinks into the west. By month-end that window will be much shorter. Jupiter will be moving eastward through the stars of northeastern Sagittarius in November. Its faster orbital speed will reduce its angular separation from slower-moving Saturn, from 5 to 2 degrees. The two planets will meet on Dec. 21. During November, Jupiter will decrease slightly in brightness from magnitude -2.16 to -2.03, and its apparent disk diameter will shrink from 36.8 To 34.4 arc-seconds. The Great Red Spot will be visible every second or third night, and moon shadow transits will be visible on Nov. 1, 8, 14, and 16 in the Americas. The young, crescent moon will pass below Jupiter and Saturn on Nov. 18-19 — a grouping that will make a beautiful wide field image.
Like nearby Jupiter to its west, yellow-tinted Saturn will shine in the lower part of the southwestern sky after dusk during November, allowing for decent telescope viewing for about an hour before it sinks into the west. By month-end that window will be much shorter. Meanwhile, Jupiter’s faster orbital speed will reduce their angular separation from 5 to 2 degrees. During November, Saturn will diminish slightly in apparent size, and fade from magnitude 0.59 to 0.64. Saturn’s rings, and many of its moons, are visible in backyard telescopes. The young, crescent moon will pass below Jupiter and Saturn on Nov. 18-19 — a grouping that will make a nice photograph when composed with some attractive foreground scenery.
During November, blue-green Uranus will be visible all night long while it travels slowly westward in southwestern Aries — about 11 degrees south of Aries’ brightest star Hamal, or 5 degrees north of the stars that form the top of Cetus’ head. Fresh from opposition on Oct. 31, Uranus will still appear slightly larger and brighter in telescopes during early November, especially in late evening, when it’s 60 degrees high in the southern sky. The bright moon will pass a few degrees south of Uranus on Nov. 27, showing you where Uranus is — but use the moonless middle weeks of the month to try seeing the magnitude 5.7 planet with unaided eyes or binoculars.
Neptune will be well-positioned for observing in the evening sky during November. The best time to view the distant planet will be when it culminates 40 degrees above the southern horizon — at about 9 pm local time on Nov. 1 and two hours earlier on Nov. 30. On Nov. 28, Neptune will complete a retrograde loop that has been carrying it westward through the stars of Aquarius since late June — then it will resume regular eastward motion. From dark sky locations the magnitude 7.9 planet can be observed in good binoculars and backyard telescopes. Look 44 arc-minutes to the northeast of the medium-bright star Phi Aquarii. Both the planet and that star will appear together in the field of view of a telescope at low magnification (red circle).
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.