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 pagepowered 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 email@example.com.
Sunday, July 9 at 12:07 a.m. EDT - Full Buck Moon
The July full moon, known as the "Buck Moon," "Thunder Moon," or "Hay Moon," always shines in or near the stars of Sagittarius. Full moons always rise around sunset and set around sunrise.
Sunday, July 16 at 3:26 p.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.
Sunday, July 23 at 5:46 a.m. EDT - New Moon (2 days after perigee)
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 two days 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. A day or two after new moon, look for the slender sliver of the waxing crescent moon low above the western horizon.
Sunday, July 30 at 11:23 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 30 - Saturday, July 1 overnight – Moon near Jupiter
From Friday evening, June 30 to the wee hours of Saturday, July 3, the last quarter moon will appear three degrees to the right of the bright planet Jupiter. The pair will be in the southwestern sky at sunset and then set together in the west about 1:30 am local time, making a pretty sight for unaided eyes and binoculars, and a fine photo opportunity. Virgo's brightest star Spica will be situated about ten degrees to the left of the pairing.
Sunday, July 2 – Asteroid Juno at Opposition
On Sunday, July 2 at 9 a.m. EDT, the large asteroid Juno will be in opposition to the sun, making it the closest to Earth for the year. Visible in small telescopes at magnitude 9.8, it will be located within the Milky Way at the northern end of Scutum.
Tuesday, July 4 overnight – Golden Handle Effect on the Moon
The Golden Handle or Jeweled Scimitar is a large bright semi-circle formed by the shallowly illuminated Jura Mountains, which partially encircle Mare Iridum. Look for the feature along the terminator, towards the moon's Northwest (our upper left) edge.
Thursday, July 6 all night - Moon meets Saturn
Overnight on Thursday, July 6 the nearly full moon will sit only two degrees above the yellowish ringed planet Saturn.
Thursday, July 20 pre-dawn – Moon meets Venus
In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Thursday, July 20, Venus and the old crescent moon will rise together after 3 am local time. The moon will be about 3 degrees to the lower right of the bright planet. Viewed in a telescope, Venus will show a gibbous phase.
Tuesday, July 25 after sunset - Mercury and Regulus near the Moon
After sunset on Tuesday, July 25, the young crescent moon will sit 8 degrees to the upper left of Mercury. The best time to spot the elusive planet is about 9:30 p.m. local time. At the same time, the bright star Regulus will sit only 1 degree to the upper right of Mercury.
Friday, July 28 evening - Jupiter Meets the Moon
On Friday evening July 28, and visible until midnight local time, the waxing crescent moon will sit approximately 2 degrees above Jupiter, passing the planet for the second time this month.
Thursday, July 30 pre-dawn - Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower Peaks
The Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower runs from July 21 to August 23. It peaks before dawn on Friday, July 28, but is quite active for a week surrounding that date. This shower is strong, consisting mostly of weak meteors, but is best seen from the southern tropics.
Sunday, July 30 after sunset - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
On the evening of Sunday, July 30, Mercury will reach its widest separation east of the Sun. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a half-illuminated phase.
Mercury spends July executing a so-so evening apparition for mid-northern latitude observers, peaking in visibility a few degrees above the western horizon around 9:30 p.m. local time. During the month, the planet's disk grows in apparent size and wanes from a nearly full phase to half-illuminated. Mercury passes 1 degree south of (below) the bright star Regulus on July 26 and reaches greatest eastern elongation (27 degrees from the Sun) on July 30.
Throughout July,Venus rises about 3 am local time and shines extremely brightly in the eastern sky until dawn. During the month, it swings sunwards and traverses the stars of Taurus, passing just above the Hyades cluster and bright Aldebaran in the second week of July. In a telescope, the planet's disk will grow slightly more than half-illuminated and shrink in apparent diameter through the month. The old crescent moon lands 3.5 degrees south (to the lower right) of the planet on July 20.
Mars is not observable during July as it reaches superior conjunction with the sun on July 26.
Jupiter is well positioned for observing in the first part of July, dominating the southwestern evening sky amid the stars of Virgo. By month end, it is sinking lower and setting within hours of the sun. During July it closes to within about 8 degrees of Virgo's brightest star Spica. On the evening of Saturday, July 1, the waxing gibbous moon will appear eight degrees to the north (upper left) of Jupiter, and then return to sit only 2.5 degrees above the planet on July 28.
Saturn spends July near the Milky Way, moving retrograde through southern Ophiuchus. It is observable from sunset to before dawn. 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 degrees) toward the Sun and Earth. On Thursday, July 6, the nearly full moon will sit only two degrees north of (above) Saturn.
For most of July, blue-green Uranus rises after midnight, only becoming an evening object at month's end. It is in the southeastern pre-dawn sky amid the stars of Pisces. At visual magnitude 5.8, it is observable in binoculars and with the naked eye under dark skies.
During July, dim blue Neptune is observable in the lower southeastern sky between midnight and the pre-dawn. During the month it is moving retrograde (westwards) towards the minor star Hydor in the constellation of 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, 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.