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. 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. [Related: 10 Must-See Stargazing Events to Look Up for in 2015]
Night Sky Photos:
Wednesday, July 1, 10:20 p.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; this is 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. This is the first of two Full Moons this month.
Wednesday, July 8, 4:24 p.m. EDT
Last Quarter Moon
The Last Quarter Moon rises around 1:30 a.m. and sets around 1:30 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Wednesday, July 15, 9:24 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 24, 12:04 a.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The First Quarter Moon rises around 1:15 p.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Friday, July 31, 6:43 a.m. EDT
This is the second Full Moon in July, what is sometimes called a "Blue Moon." It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is 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.
Venus and Jupiter within 0.3 degrees
Wednesday, July 1, dusk
Venus and Jupiter will pass really close to each other, appearing within the same telescope field. Both will be 32 arc seconds in diameter, but Jupiter is much further away from both the Earth and the sun, so will be much fainter than Venus.
Uranus and the Moon
Wednesday/Thursday, July 8/9, dawn
The moon will be close to Uranus just before sunrise. In the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean, the moon will actually occult Uranus.
Venus at greatest brilliancy
Thursday, July 9, dusk
Venus reaches its greatest brilliancy at magnitude –4.7.
Aldebaran and the Moon
Sunday, July 12, sunrise
The waning crescent moon will pass close to the bright red star Aldebaran low in morning twilight. The moon will occult Aldebaran as seen from eastern Russia, northern Japan, Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, and Iceland.
Venus and the Moon
Saturday, July 18, dusk
The moon will be close to Venus just after sunset. Venus will appear in binoculars as a tiny crescent just north of the crescent moon. The moon will occult Venus as seen from New Guinea, northeastern Australia, Melanesia, and French Polynesia.
Ceres at opposition
Saturday, July 25, 4 a.m. EDT
Ceres, the largest asteroid or smallest dwarf planet, will be in opposition to the sun. At magnitude 7.5, it will be located right on the border between Sagittarius and Microscopium, just south of Capricornus.
Mercury is well placed in the eastern sky at dawn for the first half of the month for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.
Venus shines high in the western sky after sunset, reaching its greatest brilliancy from the sun on July 9.
Mars is too close to the sun to be visible.
Jupiter is low in the western evening sky all month, close to Venus on the 1st and 31st of the month.
Saturn is well placed in Libra in the evening sky.
Uranus rises near midnight in Pisces.
Neptune rises in the late evening in the constellation Aquarius.
- 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.