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, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sky Maps and Video Guides
Best Night Sky Events of June 2017 (Stargazing Maps)
See what's up in the night sky for June 2017, including stargazing events and the moon's phases, in this Space.com gallery courtesy of Starry Night Software.
Thursday, June 1 at 8:42 a.m. EDT - First Quarter Moon
At first quarter, the positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see one-half of the moon illuminated by the sun. The moon's lit half is on the western (right-hand) side - toward the setting sun. The first quarter moon rises around noontime and sets around midnight, so it is visible half the time in the afternoon hours – and the other half during the evening hours. The term quarter moon refers not to its shape, but the fact that our natural satellite has now completely the first quarter of its orbital journey around Earth since the last new moon.
Friday, June 9 at 9:10 a.m. EDT - Full Strawberry Moon
The June full moon, known as the "Strawberry Moon", "Mead Moon", "Rose Moon", or "Thunder Moon", always shines in or near the stars of southern Ophiuchus. Full moons always rise around sunset and set around sunrise. This full moon occurs less than a day after lunar apogee, its maximum distance from Earth, making it the smallest full moon of the year. (The yellow circle represents the diameter of a perigee "Supermoon", the largest one possible.)
Saturday, June 17 at 7:33 a.m. EDT - Last Quarter Moon
Last quarter moons rise around midnight and remain visible in the southern sky during morning daylight. At this phase, the moon is illuminated on the eastern side, towards the pre-dawn sun. At last quarter, the moon is positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. About 3½ hours later, earth will occupy that same point in space. After last quarter, the moon wanes while traversing the last quarter of its orbit around the earth on the way to new moon.
Friday, June 23 at 10:31 p.m. EDT - New Moon
At new moon, the moon is travelling between the Earth and sun. Sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon that is turned away from us, and it's in the same region of the sky where the sun is, so it cannot be seen. This new moon occurs less than a day after perigee, its minimum distance from Earth. The combination of the closer moon, and both the sun and moon gravitationally tugging on the earth from the same direction, will generate higher tides globally. Starting a day or two after new moon, look for the slender sliver of the waxing crescent moon low above the western horizon, as it gradually pulls away from the sun's vicinity and shifts toward the east.
Friday, June 30 at 8:51 p.m. EDT - First Quarter Moon, Redux
This year, a First Quarter Moon occurs twice during June. Because the moon's phases repeat every 29.53 days (a synodic month), all the months except February can contain a repeat of one lunar phase. For this to happen, the first instance must occur very early in the month, as it did on June 1, 2017. (A second full moon occurring within a calendar month has been dubbed a "Blue Moon".)
Friday, June 2 pre-dawn - Venus near Uranus
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Friday, June 2, very bright Venus will pass about 1.5 degrees to the lower right of the dim blue-green planet Uranus. Under a dark sky, Uranus can be seen in binoculars.
Saturday, June 3 pre-dawn - Venus at Greatest Western Elongation
On the morning of Saturday, June 3rd, Venus will reach its widest separation west of the Sun. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a half-illuminated phase.
Saturday, June 3 evening – Moon 2 Degrees from Jupiter
On the evening of Saturday, June 3, the waxing gibbous moon will appear less than two degrees above the bright planet Jupiter. The pair will be in the southern sky at sunset and then set together in the west before dawn, making a pretty sight for unaided eyes and binoculars all evening, and a fine photo opportunity. Virgo's brightest star Spica will be situated about ten degrees to the lower left of the pairing.
Saturday, June 3 from 10:21 p.m. to 12:13 a.m. EDT - Double shadow transit on Jupiter
On Saturday, June 3 from 10:21 p.m. to 12:13 a.m., the shadows of Io and Europa will cross Jupiter simultaneously. While transiting during roughly the same time period, Ganymede's shadow (larger due to its greater distance from Jupiter) will cross closer to the planet's northern pole. For observers in the Pacific Time Zone, the event will occur in dark twilight.
Friday, June 9 all night - Moon 2 Degrees from Saturn
When the full moon rises in the east at 9 pm local time on Friday, June 9, it will sit only two degrees to the upper left of the ringed planet Saturn. As the Earth's rotation during the night carries the two objects across the sky, the moon will increase the separation to nearly 4 degrees while also rotating to a position above Saturn before dawn.
Thursday, June 15 at 6 a.m. EDT - Saturn at opposition
On Thursday, June 15 at 6 a.m. EDT, the Earth's orbit will carry us between Saturn and the sun. Sitting opposite the sun in the sky, Saturn will be visible all night long, and the planet's disk will be the brightest and largest for the year. This year's opposition coincides with Saturn's northern solstice, when its north pole tilts directly towards the sun, so the rings will appear at their widest open as viewed from Earth.
Friday, June 16 predawn – Moon 3 Degrees from Neptune
In the wee hours of Friday, June 16, and before dawn breaks, use your telescope to look for tiny blue Neptune sitting less than 3 degrees to the left of the waning gibbous moon, low in the southeastern sky. Parts of Western Antarctica and the southern Pacific Ocean will see the moon occult the planet before dawn.
Monday, June 19 from 10:04 to 10:37 p.m. EDT - Double shadow transit on Jupiter
On Monday, June 19 from 10:04 to 10:37 p.m. EDT, The shadows of Io and Europa will briefly cross Jupiter simultaneously. Io's shadow will already be more than halfway across when Europa's shadow appears at the opposite limb. For observers in the Pacific Time Zone, the event will occur in bright twilight.
Tuesday, June 20, 21 pre-dawn – Moon meets Venus
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Tuesday, June 20, Venus and the old crescent moon will rise together after 3 am local time. The moon will be less than 8 degrees to the right of the bright planet. Viewed in a telescope, Venus will show a half-illuminated phase. Observers in parts of Asia will see the moon half as far from the planet. The following morning, the moon will hop to a point 6 degrees to Venus' lower left.
Wednesday, June 21 at 12:24 a.m. EDT - Solstice
On Wednesday, June 21 at 12:24 a.m. EDT, the sun reaches its northernmost declination for the year, resulting in the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of the year for the southern hemisphere. The solstice marks the middle of the astronomical summer season in the Northern Hemisphere, and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. The actual seasons tend to lag behind the astronomical seasons by about 6 weeks.
Tuesday, June 27 early evening – Moon 1 Degree from Regulus
On the evening of Tuesday, June 27 the waxing crescent moon will pass within a degree of Leo's brightest star Regulus. Their closest separation of 30 arc-minutes (a lunar diameter) occurs about 9:30 p.m. EDT. Observers in Micronesia, Hawaii, Galapagos Islands, Peru, and Ecuador will see the moon pass in front the star.
Friday, June 30 evening – Moon Occults Double Star Porrima
On Friday evening, June 30, observers in the eastern USA and Canada will see the first quarter moon pass in front of the naked eye double star Porrima in Virgo. Because the double star's separation is one arc-second, telescope observers should see one star in the pair wink out seconds before the other one. Timings vary by location. In the northeastern USA, the dark leading limb of the moon will pass in front of the stars at approximately 10:50 p.m. EDT, and the lit trailing limb will move off the stars at approximately 11:57 p.m. EDT.
During the first half of June, Mercury completes morning apparition that was poor for mid-northern latitude observers, but excellent for the southern hemisphere. As the planet swings sunward, it grows brighter while waxing in phase and shrinking in disk diameter. It is observable with difficulty very low in the ENE sky between 4:45 and 5 am local time. Mercury passes superior conjunction with the sun on June 21, and then commences a good evening apparition for mid-northern latitude observers, becoming visible low in the NW sky around 9 pm local time by month end. On June 28, Mercury passes within a degree of dimmer Mars, but both planets are immersed in the evening twilight.
Throughout June, Venus, which rises after 3 am local time, shines brightly in the eastern pre-dawn sky. After reaching its greatest angle west of the sun on June 3rd, it begins to swing sunward again, passing out of Pisces, through the stars of Aries, and into Taurus at month end. In a telescope, the planet's disk will appear more than half-lit through the month while slowly shrinking in apparent diameter. On June 3rd, Venus will pass less than 2 degrees to the lower right of Uranus, which is best seen about 4:30 am local time, before the sky begins to brighten. On the mornings of June 20 and 21, the old crescent moon will bracket Venus, sitting about 8 degrees to the right and 6 degrees to the lower left of the bright planet respectively.
All month long, Mars is embedded in the western early evening twilight. Growing harder to spot as it sinks slowly sunward, it is best seen early in the month. The planet also continues to drop in brightness and disk size as we pull farther away from it. On June 28, brighter Mercury passes within a degree of Mars, but both planets are immersed in the evening twilight.
Jupiter is perfectly positioned for observing all month in the southwestern evening sky amid the stars of Virgo. After June 11, the very bright planetresumes regular prograde motion through that constellation. Throughout June it remains about 10 degrees to the right of Virgo's brightest star Spica. The shadows of Jupiter's four Galilean moons frequently cross the planet's disk this month, including a large number of double shadow events. On the evening of Saturday, June 3, the waxing gibbous moon will appear less than two degrees above Jupiter.
Saturn spends June near the Milky Way, moving retrograde through southern Ophiuchus. It reaches opposition on June 15th, when it rises at sunset and is closest to the Earth (75 light-minutes or 9.04 Astronomical Units away) and brightest for this year. Around that date, the rings will appear 42 seconds of arc across, and the disk of the planet about 18 arc-seconds. Unfortunately this year, Saturn remains very low in the southern sky, making telescope views less than ideal from mid-northern latitudes. As a consolation prize, the planet is experiencing its winter solstice, when the northern side of the ring plane is tilted to its maximum extent (26.7°) toward the Sun and Earth. On Friday, June 9, the nearly full moon will sit only two degrees to the upper left of the ringed planet Saturn.
Uranus spends June slowly climbing away from the sun in the pre-dawn sky amid the stars of Pisces. For the first part of the month, the blue-green planet is best seen about 4 am local time, before the sky begins to brighten. On June 3rd, Venus will pass less than 2 degrees to the lower right of Uranus.
Neptune is in the eastern pre-dawn sky during June,in the constellation of Aquarius. As the month opens, it rise about 2 am local time, then at midnight by month end. In the wee hours of Friday, June 16, use your telescope to look for the tiny blue planet less than 3 degrees to the right of the waning gibbous moon, low in the southeastern sky. Parts of Western Antarctica and the southern Pacific Ocean will see the moon occult the planet before dawn.
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.