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. 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 Geoff Gaherty 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.
Night Sky Photos:
- Spectacular Night Sky Photos by Stargazers (July 2014)
- Supermoon Photos: Amazing Full Moon Views for July 2014
- 100 Most Spectacular Night Sky Photos of 2013
- See Globular Clusters, Nebulas and a 'Teapot' In July 2014 Skywatching | Video
- Spot Planets and a Meteor Shower In July 2014 | Skywatching Video
Sky Events July 2014
Saturday, July 5, 7:59 a.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 1:45 p.m. and sets around 1:15 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Saturday, July 12, 7:25 a.m. EDT
The Full Moon of July is known as the Hay Moon, Buck Moon or Thunder Moon. It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.
Friday, July 18, 10:08 p.m. EDT
Last Quarter Moon
The Last Quarter Moon rises around 12:30 a.m. and sets around 2:30 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Saturday, July 26, 6:42 p.m. EDT
The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after New Moon.
Friday, July 4, 4 a.m. EDT
Pluto at opposition
Dwarf planet Pluto reaches opposition with the sun in eastern Sagittarius. It is moving away from the richest part of the Milky Way, so is not quite as lost amongst rich star fields as it has been in recent years.
Saturday, July 5, 9 p.m. EDT
Mars and the Moon
The waxing gibbous moon will pass just north of the planet Mars. Observers in Hawaii, western Central America, and northern South America will see the moon occult Mars.
Monday, July 7, 10 p.m. EDT
Saturn and the Moon
The moon will pass just south of the planet Saturn. Them will occult Saturn as seen from French Polynesia, southern South America, and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.
Saturday, July 12, dawn
Mercury at greatest elongation
Not a particularly good apparition of Mercury, though slightly better as seen from the Southern Hemisphere here. Look half an hour before sunrise with binoculars, using Venus and nearby bright stars to locate Mercury.
Saturday, July 12, dusk
Mars and Spica
Mars passes less than 2 degrees north of the bright star Spica, Alpha Virginis. Look for the pair about an hour after sunset.
Tuesday, July 22, dawn
Aldebaran and the Moon
The moon passes just north of the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus. Look for Venus and Mercury below and to their left, and follow the shrinking crescent moon over the next few nights as it slides below Venus and Mercury.
Mercury will be low in the dawn sky all month. This is not a very good apparition of Mercury, though being close to Venus will help you to find it. This is the view half an hour before sunrise in the Northern Hemisphere.
Venus is low in the eastern sky, rising just before the sun.
Mars is now fading rapidly in brightness as it moves towards the far side of the sun.
Jupiter is too close to the sun to be observed, being in conjunction on July 24.
Saturn, in Libra, is well placed in the evening sky.
Uranus is located in the constellation Pisces, rising near midnight.
Neptune is in Aquarius all month, rising in the late evening.
- 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.
- 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.