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.
Yearly Night Sky Guides:
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Sunday, June 3 pre-dawn - Moon Meets Mars
Low in the southeastern sky between 1 a.m. local time and dawn on the morning of Sunday, June 3, the waning gibbous moon will sit 2.5 degrees above bright reddish Mars. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars (orange circle).
Sunday, June 3 late evening – Ceres Kisses the Lion's Nose
On the evening of Sunday, June 3, in the western sky, the eastward orbital motion of the dwarf planet Ceres (visual magnitude 8.7) will carry it very close to Leo's brightest star Ras Elased Australis (aka Algenubi). Viewing the encounter through a backyard telescope at medium-high power (yellow circle) will readily show the motion of Ceres (red line). Just after dusk in eastern North America, at around 10 p.m. EDT, Ceres will be positioned 4 arc-minutes southwest of the star. In the Eastern Time zone, the objects will set by the time of closest separation at about 2:30 a.m., when Ceres will move to a position only 30 arc-seconds south of the star. Observers located farther west will be able to see the entire encounter.
Wednesday, June 6 at 2:32 p.m. EDT - Last Quarter Moon
At its last quarter phase, the moon rises around midnight and remains visible in the southern sky all morning. At this phase, 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. After this phase, the waning moon traverses the last quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon.
Wednesday, June 13 at 3:43 p.m. EDT - New Moon
At its new phase, the moon is travelling between Earth and the sun. Since sunlight is only reaching the far side of the moon, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, the moon will be completely hidden from view. A day or two after new moon, look for the slender sliver of the young crescent moon to re-appear just above the western horizon after sunset.
Thursday, June 14 after sunset – New Moon Meets Mercury
Visible for a short time after sunset on the evening of Thursday, June 14, the very young crescent moon, only 33 hours past its new phase, will sit 8 degrees to the southeast (left) of Mercury. Both objects will be immersed in the evening twilight above the northwestern horizon. The best time to see them will be between 9:30 and 9:50 p.m. local time when the sky will become sufficiently dark.
Saturday, June 16 evening - Venus and the Crescent Moon bracket the Beehive
In the western sky during early evening on Saturday, June 16, the young crescent moon will be situated 7 degrees to the upper left of bright Venus. The pair of objects will set together about 11:45 p.m. local time. Look for the huge open star cluster Messier 44, also known as the Beehive, sitting between them in the same binocular field of view (orange circle).
Sunday, June 17 late evening – Moon Meets Regulus
In the western sky in late evening on Sunday, June 17, the waxing crescent moon will be situated approximately 4 degrees to the lower right (west) of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars (orange circle). Observers in the Pacific Ocean region will see the moon pass within one degree of the star before they set.
Tuesday, June 19 pre- dawn - Neptune Reverses Direction
On Tuesday, June 19, distant blue Neptune will cease its regular eastward orbital motion (red path) and begin a retrograde loop that lasts until late November. At this time, look for the magnitude 7.9 planet in Aquarius, sitting one degree to the right of the naked eye star Phi (φ) Aquarii and 4.6 degrees to the left of brighter Hydor (Lambda Aquarii).
Tuesday, June 19 all night – Minor Planet Vesta at Opposition
On Tuesday, June 19, the Earth's orbit will carry us between the minor planet (4) Vesta and the sun. Sitting opposite the sun in the sky, Vesta will be visible all night long, and appear at its brightest (magnitude 5.33) for the year; within reach of binoculars and small telescopes. Look for the object in northern Sagittarius, approximately 8.5 degrees to the upper right of Saturn.
Tuesday, June 19 evening - Venus Buzzes the Beehive Cluster
In the western sky during the evening of Tuesday, June 19, brilliant Venus' orbital motion (purple line) will place the planet on the northern edge of the huge open star cluster Messier 44, also known as the Beehive. Both objects will fit together in the same binocular field of view (orange circle), with the cluster situated to the lower left of Venus. The duo will set together about 11:30 p.m. local time; from about 10:30 p.m. onwards, more of the cluster's stars will be apparent in the darker sky.
Wednesday, June 20 at 6:51 a.m. EDT - First Quarter Moon
After the moon has completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see it half illuminated - on its eastern side. A first quarter moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight, so it is also visible in the afternoon daytime sky. The evenings around first quarter are the best times to see the lunar terrain while it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight.
Thursday, June 21 at 6:07 a.m. EDT - Solstice
On Thursday, June 21 at 6:07 a.m. EDT, the sun will reach 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.
Saturday, June 23 all night - Gibbous Moon near Jupiter
Starting in the southern sky after sunset on the evening of Saturday, June 23, the waxing gibbous moon will sit less than 4 degrees to the upper left of bright Jupiter. The two objects will cross the sky together during the night, with the sky's rotation carrying the moon higher and above Jupiter after midnight. Meanwhile, the moon's separation from the bright planet will noticeably increase as the moon slides eastwards in its orbit.
Tuesday, June 26 all night - Gibbous Moon approaches Vesta
In the southern sky on the evening of Tuesday, June 26, the nearly full moon will sit less than three degrees to the upper right of the large asteroid Vesta. At magnitude 5.5, Vesta is easily seen with binoculars (orange circle). But, due to the brightness of the moon, wait until full darkness and then scan for Vesta keeping the moon outside of your field of view. The two objects will cross the sky together during the night while the moon shifts closer to the asteroid. Observers in Micronesia, Kiribati, northern French Polynesia, southern Mexico, Central America, and the Galapagos Islands will see the moon occult Vesta on June 27 between 08:45 and 09:45 UT.
Wednesday, June 27 at 9:00 a.m. EDT - Saturn at Opposition
On Wednesday, June 27 at 9 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. Saturn is only one year past its northern solstice, when its north pole was tilted directly towards the sun, so the rings still appear wide open as viewed from Earth.
Wednesday, June 27 all night - Saturn and Moon Conjunction
In the southeastern sky after dusk on the evening of Wednesday, June 27, the full moon will sit one degree above bright, yellowish Saturn. The two objects will cross the sky together during the night and will easily fit within the field of a small telescope at low magnification (orange circle). Meanwhile, the moon's separation from the bright planet will noticeably increase as the moon slides eastwards in its orbit. The open star cluster Messier 25 will sit 3 degrees to the upper left of the moon and Saturn.
Wednesday, June 27 overnight – Ceres meets Algieba
After dusk on the evening of Wednesday, June 27, the dwarf planet Ceres will sit only 9 arc-minutes (or less than one third of the moon's apparent diameter) above the bright naked eye double star Algieba in Leo. A telescope at medium-high magnification will show the minor planet and the close-together pair of distant stars together in the same field of view (yellow circle).
Thursday, June 28 at 12:53 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 in the east as the sun sets, and set in the west at sunrise. Since no shadows are cast by the vertically impinging sunlight on a full moon, all of the brightness differences are generated by the reflectivity, or albedo, of the surface rocks.
Saturday, June 30 overnight - Mars and the Moon
About 11 p.m. local time on Saturday, June 30, Mars will rise in the east with the waning gibbous moon shining 4 degrees to the upper left of it. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars (orange circle). By dawn, the pair will appear low in the southwestern sky.
Mercury will be unobservable until after it passes superior conjunction with the sun on June 6th. Then it will enter the western evening sky and steadily climb away from the sun as it heads toward its greatest angle east of the sun in mid-July. Mercury's position north of a shallowly tilted ecliptic will make this evening apparition a medium-quality one for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. The best viewing times in mid-June will be around 9:30 p.m. local time. By month-end, the prime observing window will span 9:30 to 10 p.m. local time. After June 12, Mercury will be travelling through the stars of Gemini. The planet will increase in apparent diameter, phase, and brightness through June 30th.
During June, Venus will continue a long and very good apparition that lasts into early autumn. Each evening through the month, our extremely bright sister planet will climb the western early evening sky – passing from Gemini into Cancer on June 12, and then moving into Leo at month's end. Throughout the month, Venus will set about 11:30 p.m. local time. Venus will continually brighten throughout June, reaching magnitude -4.1 on June 30th. At the same time, its apparent disk size will increase slightly and its illuminated phase will drop slightly from 80% to 70%. In the western sky during early evening on June 16, the young crescent moon will be situated 7 degrees to the upper left of Venus. On June 19, Venus' orbital motion will place the planet on the northern edge of the huge open star cluster Messier 44, also known as the Beehive.
Mars will spend June among the stars of Capricornus, starting the month rising after midnight and remaining observable until dawn in the southeastern sky. After mid-June, Mars will rise before midnight, starting a spectacular summer show that will last through late summer. On June 28, Mars will cease its eastward orbital motion and commence a retrograde loop that lasts until late august. During June, Earth's orbital motion will continue to reduce our distance from the Red Planet. As a result, Mars will increase in brightness (from visual magnitude -1.2 to -2.3) and its apparent disk diameter will dramatically increase from 15 to 21 arc-seconds. The waning gibbous moon will sit 3 degrees above Mars on June 3. When Mars rises about 11 p.m. local time on June 30, the waning gibbous moon will sit 4.5 degrees to its upper left.
A month past opposition, very bright Jupiter (visual magnitude -2.5) will be observable partway up the southern and western sky after dusk during June. By month's end, it will be setting before 2:30 a.m. local time. The planet will slowly move westward in central Libra all month, starting the month about one degree from the fine, bright double star Zubenelgenubi. From time to time during June, the little round shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons will be visible as they cross the planet's disk. On Friday, June 15 from 9:25 to 11:34 p.m. EDT, Io's shadow will transit Jupiter. In the southern sky on the evening of June 23rd, look for the waxing gibbous moon and Jupiter separated by about 4 degrees.
During June evenings, Saturn will be visible as a medium-bright, yellowish object in the southern sky moving retrograde (westward) through the stars of northern Sagittarius. The ringed planet will reach opposition on June 27th, just 6 days after the summer solstice. This places Saturn near the winter solstice point, making it very low in the southern sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere (22.5 degrees south of the celestial equator). At opposition, Saturn will be 75 light-minutes (9.05 Astronomical Units) from Earth, shine at visual magnitude 0.0. The disk of the planet will subtend 18.4 arc-seconds, and the rings, tilted near their maximum extent, will span nearly 42 seconds of arc. On opposition night, the full moon will appear less than a degree above the planet, so both objects will fit within the field of view of a telescope at low magnification.
During June, blue-green Uranus (magnitude 5.8) will be observable for about 2 hours in the eastern pre-dawn sky, moving slowly eastward through the stars of western Aries. On June 10, the old crescent moon will land 6 degrees below Uranus.
Blue-tinted Neptune (magnitude 7.9) will spend June in the southeastern pre-dawn sky among the stars of eastern Aquarius. As an aid in locating it, it will be sitting 4.6 degrees to the east of the naked eye star Hydor and 3 degrees north of fainter Psi (ψ) Aquarii. On June 19, the distant planet will commence a very long retrograde loop.
Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50 percent 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.