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, you can send images and comments in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yearly Night Sky Guides:
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Saturday, June 1 pre-dawn — Old Moon Meets Venus
In the north-northeastern pre-dawn sky on Saturday, June 1, the old crescent moon will be positioned 6 degrees to the lower right (southwest) of the bright planet Venus. The best time to see the meet-up falls between 5 and 5:30 a.m. local time. You will need a viewing location with a low eastern horizon, free from foreground hills, trees, and structures.
Sunday, June 2 overnight — Asteroid Pallas Stands Still
On Sunday, June 2, the main belt asteroid designated (2) Pallas will complete a westerly retrograde loop through the distant stars that began in March (red path), and resume its regular eastward motion. Pallas' visual magnitude of 8.8 will allow it to be seen in binoculars and amateur telescopes all night long. On June 2 Pallas will be among the stars of eastern Coma Berenices, approximately 12 degrees to the upper right of the bright star Arcturus.
Monday, June 3 at 6:02 a.m. EDT — New Moon
At its new phase, the moon is between the Earth and the sun. Since sunlight is only shining on the far side of the moon, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, the moon is completely hidden from view by Earth-bound observers. 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.
Tuesday, June 4 after sunset — New Moon with Mercury
On the evening of Tuesday, June 4, the very young crescent moon will sit less than 6 degrees to the left (southeast) of the planet Mercury. The pair will be visible low over the northwestern horizon after sunset, surrounded by evening twilight. The best time to see then falls between 9:15 and 10 p.m. local time when the sky will be darker.
Tuesday, June 4 from 8:29 to 9:53 p.m. EDT — Double shadow transit on Jupiter
From time to time, the small round black shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons become visible in amateur telescopes as they cross (or transit) the Jupiter's disk. On Tuesday, June 4, observers from the eastern Americas to western Europe and western Africa can see two of those shadows on Jupiter at the same time. At 8:29 p.m. EDT (00:29 GMT on Friday), Io's shadow will join Ganymede's shadow, which will already be crossing near Jupiter's northern pole. The two shadows will cross Jupiter for 84 minutes until Ganymede's shadow moves off the planet at 9:53 p.m. EDT (1:53 GMT on Friday). Io's shadow will continue to transit Jupiter until 10:42 p.m. EDT (02:42 GMT on Friday). For observers in the Eastern USA, the event will be in progress when Jupiter rises.
Wednesday, June 5 early evening — Moon Meets Mars
During early evening on Wednesday, June 5, the young crescent moon will sit less than 6 degrees to the upper left (east) of the reddish planet Mars. Look for the pair in the north-northwestern sky among the stars of Gemini. They will set at about 11 p.m. local time.
Wednesday, June 5 at 9:30 p.m. EDT — Moon Occults a Star
Observers located in the southern and eastern portions of the continental USA can watch the crescent moon occult the medium-bright double star Wasat (Delta Geminorum) on the evening of Wednesday, June 5. The start time and the duration of the occultation vary by location, but the event will be approximately centered on 9:30 p.m. EDT (or 1:30 GMT on Thursday). Once the sky begins to darken, use binoculars to look for the star above the darkened leading edge of the moon, then get a magnified view in your telescope. The pair of stars will suddenly wink out as the moon covers them, and then re-appear from behind the moon's opposite, lit crescent some time later. Other regions will see the moon pass close to the star. Your planetarium software will provide the times at your location.
Monday, June 10 at 1:59 a.m. EDT — First Quarter Moon and Lunar X
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 the moon half-illuminated — on its eastern side. At first quarter, the moon always rises around noon and sets near 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. At this First quarter, a feature called the Lunar X will be visible in strong binoculars and small telescopes. For a few hours, the illuminated rims of the craters Parbach, la Caille, and Blanchinus form a small, but very obvious X-shape, which is located on the terminator about one third of the way up from the southern pole of the moon (at 2° East, 24° South).
Monday, June 10 evening — Jupiter at Opposition
On Monday, June 10, Jupiter will be exactly opposite the sun in the sky – rising at sunset, and remaining visible all night long. The planet's disk will appear at its brightest and largest (46 arc-seconds) for the year. Around opposition, Jupiter and its four large satellites frequently eclipse and occult one another, and those moons cast round black shadows on the planet.
Tuesday, June 11 from 11:29 p.m. to 12:53 a.m. EDT — Double shadow transit on Jupiter
From time to time, the small round black shadows cast by Jupiter's four Galilean moons become visible in amateur telescopes as they cross (or transit) Jupiter's disk. On Tuesday, June 11, observers in the Americas can see two of those shadows on Jupiter at the same time. At 11:29 p.m. EDT, Ganymede's shadow will join Io's shadow already in transit. The two shadows will cross Jupiter for 64 minutes until Io's shadow moves off the planet at 12:33 a.m. EDT. Ganymede's shadow will continue to transit the northern polar region of Jupiter until 1:50 a.m. EDT.
Sunday, June 16 all night — Bright Moon near Jupiter
When the nearly full moon rises over the southeastern horizon after sunset on the evening of Sunday, June 16, it will sit 4 degrees to the lower left (east) of the very bright planet Jupiter. The two objects will cross the sky together during the night, with the sky's rotation carrying the moon higher than Jupiter after midnight. Meanwhile, the moon's separation from the bright planet will noticeably increase as the moon slides eastwards in its orbit during the night.
Monday, June 17 at 8:31 GMT — Full Strawberry Moon
The June full moon, colloquially known as the Strawberry Moon, Mead Moon, Rose Moon, or Hot Moon, always shines in or near the stars of southern Ophiuchus (the Serpent-Bearer). Because the moon reaches full when it is opposite the sun in the sky, full moons always rise in the east as the sun sets, and sets in the west at sunrise. Since sunlight is hitting the moon vertically, it casts no shadows on a full moon. All of the variations in brightness we see are generated by differences in the reflectivity, or albedo, of the lunar surface rocks.
Tuesday, June 18 after sunset — Mercury Kisses Mars
In the west-northwestern sky after sunset on Tuesday, June 18, the faster orbital motion of Mercury (red curve) will carry it closely past the distant, reddish planet Mars. Mercury, the brighter of the two planets, will be positioned less than 0.3 degrees above Mars. Both planets will easily fit into the field of view of a backyard telescope (orange circle). The pair will near one another from Sunday to Wednesday.
Tuesday, June 18 all night — Bright Moon close to Saturn
When the bright, waning gibbous moon rises over the southeastern horizon at 10:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday evening, June 18, the bright, yellowish planet Saturn will be positioned only one degree above it. The pair will cross the sky together during the night and will easily fit within the field of binoculars or a backyard telescope at medium magnification (orange circle). Observers in Easter Island, southern South America, the Antarctic Peninsula, and southern Africa will see the moon occult Saturn.
Friday, June 21 pre-dawn — Neptune Reverses Direction
On Friday, June 21, distant blue Neptune will cease its regular eastward orbital motion through the background stars (red path) and begin a retrograde loop that will last until late November. Today, you'll find the magnitude 7.9 planet in Aquarius, sitting 1.3 degrees to the left (east) of the naked eye star Phi (φ) Aquarii.
Friday, June 21 at 11:54 a.m. EDT — Solstice
On Friday, June 21 at 11:54 a.m. EDT, the sun will reach its northernmost declination for the year, resulting in the longest daylight hours of the year for the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest daylight hours of the year for the Southern Hemisphere. The solstice marks the beginning of the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere, and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Sunday, June 23 evening — Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
On the evening of Sunday, June 23, Mercury (orbit shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation, 25 degrees east of the Sun for the current apparition. With Mercury sitting above a shallowly dipping evening ecliptic in the west-northwestern sky, this will be a so-so appearance of the planet for Northern Hemisphere observers. The optimal viewing times fall between 9:45 and 10:15 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset) the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase.
Tuesday, June 25 at 9:46 GMT — Last Quarter Moon
At its last quarter phase, the moon rises around midnight and remains visible in the southern half of the sky until it sets during mid-day. 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 will traverse the final quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon.
Friday, June 28 pre-dawn — Old Moon near Vesta
Before dawn on Friday, June 28, the old crescent moon will sit two degrees to the left (northeast) of the large asteroid Vesta. At magnitude 8.2, Vesta will be visible with large binoculars (orange circles) and backyard telescopes. To help you find Vesta, the medium-bright star Xi (ξ) Ceti will be positioned only 0.5 degrees above Vesta.
Mercury will spend June in a fairly good evening apparition for Northern Hemisphere observers. As the month begins, it will be climbing out of the evening twilight over the west-northwestern horizon. In a telescope, Mercury will exhibit an 84% illuminated phase and a disk diameter of 5.54 arc-seconds. Mercury will wane in phase and grow in disk size during the month, reaching peak observability on the evenings surrounding its greatest eastern elongation on June 23. On that day, the best time to look for it will be between 9:45 and 10:15 p.m. local time. In the last week of June, Mercury will be swinging sunward again and displaying a waning crescent phase and a 9.39 arc-second disk diameter. On June 4, the very young crescent moon will sit less than 6 degrees to the left (southeast) of Mercury. On June 18, the faster orbital motion of Mercury will carry it closely past the distant, reddish planet Mars. Mercury, the brighter of the two planets, will be positioned less than 0.3 degrees above Mars, making a nice sight in backyard telescopes.
During June, Venus will be in the closing stages of a long and very good morning apparition. On June 1, its separation from the sun will be 20 degrees. By month end, that will shrink to 12 degrees, making it increasingly difficult to see. Venus will slightly brighten throughout June, reaching magnitude -3.85 on June 30th. At the same time, its apparent disk size will decrease slightly and its illuminated phase will drop from 93.7% to 97.7%. On June 1, the old crescent moon will move to within 6 degrees to the lower right (southwest) of Venus.
Mars will spend nearly all of June among the stars of Gemini while it slides deeper into the western evening twilight. It will remain a reasonable observing target for the first part of June, when it will set just after 11 p.m. local time. At month's end, Mars will be setting at about 10:20 p.m. local time. The planet will exhibit an apparent disk diameter of about 3.75 arc-seconds and shine with an average magnitude +1.78 during June. On June 5, the young crescent moon will sit less than 6 degrees to the upper left (east) of Mars. On June 18, the faster orbital motion of Mercury will carry it closely past Mars, with Mercury, the brighter of the two planets, positioned less than 0.3 degrees above Mars.
During June, very bright Jupiter (visual magnitude -2.6) will be an all-night target in southern Ophiuchus, slowly moving westward in a retrograde loop that will last until August. The planet will reach opposition on June 10th, when it will be located 36 light-minutes from Earth and will exhibit a large 46 arc-second apparent disk diameter. This will also be a fine time to observe Jupiter's four Galilean moons and the little round shadows they cast upon the planet. Double shadow events occur in late evening on June 4 and June 12. Starting after sunset on the evening of June 16, the nearly full moon will sit 4 degrees to the lower left (east) of Jupiter.
Saturn will spend June as a medium-bright, yellowish object moving retrograde through eastern Sagittarius — on the eastern side of the Milky Way. In early June, the ringed planet will rise in the east at about 11:30 p.m. local time and remain visible until dawn, when it will be 23 degrees above the southern horizon. By month's end, Saturn will rise just after sunset, making it a fine all-night target for backyard telescopes. During the month, Saturn and its rings will slightly increase in apparent size and the planet will brighten from magnitude 0.28 to 0.19. Starting late on Tuesday evening, June 18, the bright waning gibbous moon will be positioned only one degree below Saturn.
During June, blue-green Uranus (magnitude 5.8) will be observable in the eastern pre-dawn sky, moving slowly eastward through the stars of western Aries. As it is carried farther from the sun every morning, it will become easier to observe.
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 Neptune, the planet will be sitting 7 degrees to the east of the naked-eye star Hydor and 1.3 degrees to the left (east) of a slightly dimmer star named Phi (φ) Aquarii. On June 21, the planet will begin a westward retrograde loop that will last until November.
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.