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, 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 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.comto find out when and how to see the International Space Station and other satellites. We also have a helpful guide on how you can see and track a Starlink satellite train.
Read on to 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 and Chris at @Astrogeoguy
Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo and would like to share them with Space.com’s readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to email@example.com.
Calendar of observing highlights
Saturday, July 1: Bright moon in the heart of Scorpius (wee hours)
Starting on Friday evening in the Americas and carrying on into Saturday morning, July 1, look several finger-widths to the left (or celestial southeast) of the nearly full moon to see Scorpius' brightest star, reddish Antares "the Rival of Mars". The duo will sit low in the southwestern sky and be proximate enough to share the view in binoculars (orange circle).
Starting around 1 a.m. EDT, or 05:00 GMT, use your binoculars or a backyard telescope to watch the moon occult the medium-bright double star Alniyat (or Sigma Scorpii), which shines to the west of Antares. (The exact timing of the occultation varies by location, so use an app like Starry Night to look up your own circumstances.) The moon's easterly motion will also carry it closely above Antares for observers in westerly time zones.
Saturday, July 1: Neptune begins a retrograde loop (wee hours)
On Saturday, July 1, the eastward prograde motion of the distant planet Neptune through the background stars of western Pisces (red path) will slow to a stop. After today it will commence a very small westward retrograde loop that will last until early December.
In early July, Neptune's tiny, faint, blue disk will be observable in telescopes (orange circle) in the lower part of the southeastern sky between about 2 and 4 a.m. local time. The medium-bright star 27 Piscium shining 2 degrees below Neptune will guide you.
Monday, July 3: A sort of super Thunder Moon (at 11:39 GMT)
The moon will reach its full phase on Monday, July 3 at 7:39 a.m. EDT or 3:39 a.m. PDT and 11:39 GMT. The July full moon, commonly called the Buck Moon, Thunder Moon, or Hay Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Sagittarius or Capricornus.
The indigenous Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region call this moon Abitaa-niibini Giizis, the Halfway Summer Moon, or Mskomini Giizis, the Raspberry Moon. The Cherokees call it Guyegwoni, the Corn in Tassel Moon. The Cree Nation of central Canada calls the July full moon Opaskowipisim, the Feather Moulting Moon (referring to wild water-fowl habits), and the Mohawks call it Ohiarihkó:wa, the Fruits are Ripened Moon.
The moon only appears full when it is opposite the sun in the sky, so full moons always rise in the east as the sun is setting, and set in the west at sunrise. Since sunlight is hitting the moon face-on at that time, no shadows are cast. All of the variations in brightness you see arise from differences in the reflectivity, or albedo, of the lunar surface rocks. While full, this moon will be slightly farther from Earth than is required to make it an official supermoon — but the almost-full moon will be super-sized, or about 6% larger than average (red circle), in the hours before it sets on Monday morning in the Americas. Two genuine supermoons will occur in August this year!
Tuesday, July 4: The Aristarchus Plateau (all night)
Three prominent craters break up the expanse of the moon's Oceanus Procellarum. Large Copernicus is the easternmost. Its extensive, ragged ray system intermingles with that of smaller Kepler to its southwest. The very bright crater Aristarchus positioned northwest of them occupies the southeastern corner of a diamond-shaped plateau that is one of the most colorful regions on the moon.
NASA orbiters have detected high levels of radioactive radon there. Use a telescope and high magnification to view features like the large, sinuous rille named Vallis Schröteri. Its snake-like form begins between Aristarchus and next-door Herodotus and meanders across the plateau.
Thursday, July 6: Earth passes aphelion (at 4:06 p.m. EDT, 20:06 GMT)
On Thursday, July 6 at 4:06 p.m. EDT, or 20:06 GMT, Earth will reach aphelion, its greatest distance from the sun for this year.
Aphelion's 94.51 million miles (152.1 million km) distance is 1.67% farther from the sun than the mean Earth-sun separation of 92.96 million miles (149.6 million km), which is also defined to be 1 Astronomical Unit (1 A.U.).
Seasonal temperature variations arise from the varying direction of Earth's axial tilt, as opposed to our distance from the sun. Earth will reach its minimum distance from the sun, or perihelion, on January 2, 2024.
Thursday, July 6: Bright moon below Saturn (overnight)
Late on Thursday night, July 6, the bright, waning gibbous moon will rise over the southeastern horizon accompanied by the prominent yellowish dot of Saturn.
Saturn will be positioned several finger widths above (or to the celestial north of) the moon, close enough for them to share the view in binoculars (orange circle). During the night the orbital motion of the moon and the diurnal rotation of the sky will shift Saturn to the moon's upper right. Early risers on Friday morning can spot the duo in the southern sky at dawn.
Friday, July 7: Venus at greatest illuminated extent (after sunset)
On Friday, July 7, Venus will reach its greatest illuminated extent for the current evening apparition. After dusk, Venus will be visible as a brilliant "star" in the lower part of the western sky.
In a telescope, the planet will show a 26%-illuminated, waning crescent phase on an apparent disk size of 37 arc-seconds, which combine to produce the greatest illuminated area in the sky. Even with its less than fully-illuminated disk (inset), Venus' distance from Earth of only 0.447 Astronomical Units (41.54 million miles or 66.86 million km) will boost its brightness to a brilliant magnitude -4.69.
Once the sky darkens, look for reddish Mars and Leo's brightest star Regulus shining less than a palm's width to the upper left of Venus. Venus will appear just as bright for several evenings.
Sunday, July 9: Third quarter moon (at 9:48 p.m. EDT)
The moon will complete three-quarters of its orbit around Earth, measured from the previous new moon, on Sunday, July 9 at 9:48 p.m. EDT or 6:48 p.m. PDT, which converts to 01:48 GMT on July 10.
At the third (or last) quarter phase the moon appears half-illuminated, on its western, sunward side. It will rise around midnight local time, and then remain visible until it sets in the western daytime sky in the early afternoon. Third 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. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase are the best for observing deep sky targets.
Monday, July 10: Mars meets Regulus (after dusk)
In the western sky after dusk on Monday evening, July 10, the reddish dot of Mars will shine less than a finger's width above (or 40 arc-minutes to the celestial northeast) of Leo's brightest star, Regulus.
The red planet and the white star, which will appear slightly brighter than Mars, will share the field of view in a backyard telescope from Saturday to Wednesday. Or use binoculars (orange circle) to view their conjunction along with the brilliant planet Venus gleaming to the lower right.
Tuesday, July 11: Crescent moon near Jupiter (pre-dawn)
After the waning crescent moon clears the treetops in the east during the wee hours of Tuesday morning, July 11, it will be joined by the extremely bright planet Jupiter shining to its lower left (or celestial east).
The pair will shine in a dark sky for two hours and then remain visible in the brightening sky until sunrise. With each passing hour, the moon will shift closer to Jupiter, allowing skywatchers with binoculars to glimpse Jupiter's bright speck in daylight by placing the moon on the right edge of the field of view. On the following morning, the moon will shine to Jupiter's lower left.
Wednesday, July 12: Waning moon moves toward Uranus (pre-dawn)
For about two hours before the sky begins to brighten on Wednesday morning, July 12, the waning crescent moon will guide you to the tiny dot of the magnitude 5.8 blue-green planet Uranus, which is visible in binoculars (orange circle) and backyard telescopes.
The Pleiades cluster and bright Jupiter will shine to either side of the pairing. Before dawn in the Eastern Time zone, Uranus will be located less than a palm's width to the moon's lower left (or 5 degrees to its celestial east). Because the moon shifts east by its own diameter every hour, observers in more westerly time zones will find Uranus closer to the moon.
The medium-bright star Botein (or Delta Arietis), which will be shining two finger widths above Uranus, will assist your search - even after the moon moves away on subsequent mornings.
Thursday, July 13: Pretty moon poses with the Pleiades (pre-dawn)
The eastern sky for several hours before dawn on Thursday, July 13 will host a pretty sight and photo opportunity when the slim crescent of the waning moon shines just 2 finger widths below (or celestial south of) the bright blue-white stars of the Pleiades Star Cluster, which is also known as the Seven Sisters, the Hole in the Sky, Subaru, and Messier 45. The moon and the cluster will share the view of binoculars (orange circle).
Monday, July 17: New Moon
On Monday, July 17 at 2:32 p.m. EDT or 11:32 a.m. PDT and 18:32 GMT, the moon will officially reach its new moon phase.
At that time our natural satellite will be located in Gemini, 4.6 degrees north of the sun. While new, the moon is traveling between Earth and the sun. Since sunlight can only illuminate the far side of the moon, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, it becomes completely hidden from view from anywhere on Earth for about a day (unless there's a solar eclipse). After the new moon phase, Earth's celestial night light will return to shine as a crescent in the western evening sky.
Tuesday, July 18: Young moon near Mercury (after sunset)
After sunset on Tuesday, July 18, look just above the west-northwestern horizon for the very slender crescent of the young moon shining a palm's width to the right (or 5 degrees to the celestial northwest) of the magnitude -0.45 planet Mercury. They'll be close enough to share the view in binoculars (orange circle). Venus will gleam off to their left.
Wednesday, July 19: Crescent moon above Venus and Mercury (after sunset)
On Wednesday, July 19, look low in the western sky after sunset to see the young crescent moon shining above and between brilliant Venus and much fainter Mercury.
The moon will be located a fist's diameter to the right of Venus and a palm's width to the upper left of Mercury — close enough for those two to share the view in binoculars (orange circle). The reddish dot of Mars will be shining to Venus' upper left.
Thursday, July 20: Earthshine moon near Mars (after sunset)
In the western sky after sunset on Thursday, July 20, the pretty crescent moon will shine several finger-widths to the upper right of the small, reddish dot of Mars.
If you have an unobstructed western horizon, look for the bright planet Venus shining brightly below them, and fainter Mercury about 1.7 fist diameters to their lower right. On these evenings, watch for Earthshine on the moon, also known as the Ashen Glow and "the old moon in the new moon's arms". That's sunlight reflected off Earth and back toward the moon, slightly brightening the dark portion of the moon's Earth-facing hemisphere.
Friday, July 21: Pluto at opposition (all night)
On Friday night, July 21, the dim and distant dwarf planet designated (134340) Pluto will reach opposition for 2023. On that date, the Earth will be positioned between Pluto and the sun, minimizing our distance from that outer world and maximizing Pluto's visibility.
While at opposition, Pluto will be located 3.24 billion miles, 5.21 billion km, or 282 light-minutes from Earth. Unfortunately, it will shine with an extremely faint visual magnitude of +14.3 which is far too dim for visual observing through a small backyard telescope.
Pluto will be located in the sky about 4 finger-widths to the upper left (or 4.2 degrees to the celestial north-northeast) of the four medium-bright stars named Omega, 59, 60, and 62 Sagittarii, which shine well to the left (east) of Sagittarius' Teapot-shaped asterism. Alternatively, aim your telescope a finger's width below (or 1 degree south of) the globular star cluster Messier 75. Even if you can't see Pluto directly, you will know that it is there.
Saturday, July 22: The Summer Triangle (all night)
After dusk in mid-July, Vega, Deneb, and Altair are the first stars to appear in the darkening eastern sky. Those three bright, white stars form the Summer Triangle asterism — an annual feature of the summer sky that remains visible until the end of December!
The highest and most easterly of the trio is Vega, in Lyra. At magnitude 0.03, Vega is the brightest star in the summer sky, mainly due to its relative proximity. It's only 25 light-years away from the sun. Magnitude 0.75 Altair, in Aquila, occupies the lower right (southern) corner of the triangle. Altair is 17 light-years from the sun. By contrast, Deneb, which shines somewhat less brightly at magnitude 1.25, is a staggering 2,600 light-years away from us; but it shines so brightly because of its greater intrinsic luminosity. The Milky Way passes between Vega and Altair and through Deneb.
Monday, July 24: Half-moon and Spica (evening)
In the southwestern sky in the evening on Monday, July 24, the waxing, the nearly-half-illuminated moon will shine several finger-widths to the upper right (or celestial northwest) of Virgo's brightest star, Spica.
The pair will be close enough to share the field of view in binoculars (orange circle). Skywatchers in westerly time zones will see the moon closer to the bright, white star.
Tuesday, July 25: First quarter moon
The moon will complete the first quarter of its orbit around Earth, as measured from the previous new moon, on Tuesday, July 25 at 6:07 p.m. EDT or 3:07 p.m. PDT or 22:07 GMT.
The 90-degree angle formed by the Earth, sun, and moon at that time will cause us to see our natural satellite half-illuminated — on its eastern side.
At first quarter, the moon always rises around mid-day and sets around midnight, allowing its pale orb to be seen in the afternoon daytime sky, too. The evenings surrounding the first quarter phase are the best ones for viewing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight.
Wednesday, July 26: The inner planets gather (after sunset)
The dance of the evening planets will continue after sunset on Wednesday, July 26 when speedy Mercury will make its closest approach to far brighter Venus. Observers with a low, unobstructed western horizon can see the two planets shining just above the horizon for about half an hour after sunset.
On Wednesday Mercury will be located less than a palm's width to the upper right of 56 times brighter Venus. That's close enough for them to share the view in binoculars (orange circle) — but don't use optical aids to search for them until the sun has completely set. The grouping of the two planets will last for about a week centered on Wednesday. At southerly latitudes they'll shine in a darker sky, allowing observers there to see them more easily.
Thursday, July 27: The golden-handled moon near the scorpion's claws (evening)
After dusk on Thursday, July 27, the waxing gibbous moon will shine in western Scorpius near the up-down row of small white stars that form the scorpion's claws. From top to bottom, they are Jabbah or Nu Scorpii, Graffias or Acrab, Dschubba, Pi Scorpii, and Rho Scorpii. The scorpion's brightest star, reddish Antares, will sparkle to their left.
A backyard telescope at high magnification will reveal that Nu Scorpii, Graffias, and Dschubba are close-together double stars. That night the lunar terminator will bisect Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows. That semi-circular feature, 155 miles (249 km) in diameter, is a large impact crater that has been flooded by the same basalts that filled the much larger Mare Imbrium to its east — forming a round bay on the western edge of the mare.
A clair-obscur effect named the Golden Handle will be visible (inset). It's produced when the low-angled sunlight along the terminator brightens only the peaks of the prominent Montes Jura mountain range surrounding Sinus Iridum on the north and west — the original crater rim — while the rest of the mountains and the bay's western floor are still dark.
Friday, July 28: Mercury kisses Regulus (after sunset)
On Friday, July 28, the easterly orbital motion of the planet Mercury will carry it closely past Leo's brightest star, Regulus.
Only once the sun has fully set, use binoculars (orange circle) or a backyard telescope to look for a close-together pair of "stars" shining a short distance above the western horizon. Brilliant Venus will shine a palm's width below them before it sets. Four times brighter Mercury will be located just 7 arc-minutes (or about one-quarter of the moon's diameter) to the lower left of the star.
Skywatchers at southerly latitudes will see the event more easily. On the surrounding nights, Mercury will be farther from Regulus but still telescope-close to it.
Sunday, July 30: Southern Delta-Aquariids meteors peak (overnight)
The annual Southern Delta-Aquariids meteor shower lasts from July 18 to August 21 in 2023. It will peak on Sunday afternoon, July 30 in the Americas, but it is quite active for a week surrounding the peak night.
Since meteors require a dark sky, the best viewing time will be Sunday morning between the time the bright moon sets (around 3 a.m. local time) and dawn, and again on Saturday night. This shower, produced by debris dropped from periodic Comet 96P/Machholz, commonly generates 15-20 meteors per hour at the peak. It is best enjoyed from the southern tropics, where the shower's radiant, in southern Aquarius, climbs higher in the sky.
After passing superior solar conjunction on July 1, Mercury will spend the first days of the month lurking within the western twilight after sunset while it climbs away from the sun.
This evening apparition will be the best one of the year for Southern Hemisphere observers, but Mercury's position just north of a very tilted ecliptic will keep the planet very low in the sky after sunset for northerners — making this a lengthy, but poor-quality showing for them.
The planet will wane in the illuminated phase from full to barely gibbous during July, causing its apparent brightness to steadily decrease from magnitude -1.5 to 0.0. Over the same period, it will grow in apparent disk size from 5 to 7 arc seconds.
Mercury will pass through the large Beehive open cluster in Cancer on July 14, but the cluster's stars will not be easy to observe while so low in the sky. On July 18, the very slender crescent of the young moon will shine 5 degrees to the right (or celestial northwest) of Mercury. On the following evening, it will shine above and between Mercury and much brighter Venus.
On the nights surrounding July 26, Mercury will pass 5 degrees to the upper right (or celestial north) of Venus. On July 28 Mercury will pose just 7 arc minutes to the lower left (south) of the star Regulus.
Venus will continue to shine brilliantly in the western sky after sunset during early July. Although it will be among the stars of southwestern Leo, it will be descending daily and will disappear into the post-sunset twilight for the final week of the month.
Viewed in a telescope during July, Venus' illuminated phase will wane from 31% crescent to a thin sliver and its apparent disk size will grow from 34 to 54 arc-seconds. Our sister planet will reach its greatest illuminated extent and a peak brightness of magnitude -4.69 on July 7.
The red planet Mars will shine to the upper left (celestial east) of Venus during July. Mars will start the month positioned only 3.6 degrees east of Venus, but their separation will widen to 17.5 degrees at month's end. Venus will approach within 3.5 degrees of the bright star Regulus for five nights centered on July 16.
The waxing crescent moon will make a nice photo opportunity when it shines with Venus on July 19 and 20. On the nights surrounding July 26, Mercury will travel about 5 degrees to the upper right (or celestial north) of Venus.
The reddish dot of Mars will begin July shining at magnitude 1.72 and positioned 3.6 degrees to the upper left (or celestial east) of far brighter Venus in the western sky after sunset.
While Venus falls sunward, Mars' eastward orbital motion will increase its separation from Venus and delay its descent into the twilight, allowing Mars to be seen above the western horizon through the end of the month. Its low sky position and tiny 4 arc-seconds-wide disk will not be optimal for telescope-viewing.
Mars will spend all of July in Leo, passing just 0.7 degrees north of its brightest star Regulus on July 9-10. The waxing crescent moon will shine to Mars' right, with bright Venus and fainter Mercury below them, on July 20.
Magnitude -2.3 Jupiter will spend July moving eastward through the stars of southwestern Aries.
On July 1 the planet will rise at about 2 a.m. local time and then catch your eye as a brilliant object in the lower part of the eastern sky before sunrise. At month's end Jupiter will be rising just after midnight and climbing high enough before dawn to be a fine telescope target for early risers.
Binoculars and backyard telescopes will show Jupiter's tiny disk flanked by a line-up of four Galilean moons. Telescope views of Jupiter will also show its banded disk, the Great Red Spot every second or third morning, and transits across Jupiter of the small, black shadows of its moons on July 4, 13, 26, and 27.
On July 12, the old, waning crescent moon will shine just to Jupiter's left, or celestial east — making a nice photo and binoculars opportunity.
Yellowish Saturn will shine prominently in the late-night sky during July while it ramps up its westward retrograde motion through the stars of central Aquarius. The magnitude 0.8 planet will clear the eastern treetops shortly after midnight as July begins.
At month's end it will have brightened slightly and climbed high enough for reasonable views in a telescope starting in late evening. Your best views will be delivered in the hours before dawn when its elevation in the southern sky will be greatest. A backyard telescope will catch some of Saturn's moons and easily show its rings, which will be only 9 degrees from edge-on this year.
The planet's disk and rings will span 18.4 and 43 arc seconds wide, respectively. Watch for a small wedge of a shadow cast onto the rings alongside Saturn's northwestern limb. On July 7 the waning gibbous moon will shine several finger widths below (or celestial south of) the planet.
Uranus will spend 2023 following far brighter Jupiter across the night-time sky. During July, the blue-green, magnitude 5.8 planet, which is visible in binoculars and small telescopes, will be positioned in the southeastern predawn sky to Jupiter's lower left (or celestial east), and creeping slowly eastward across the stars of southern Aries.
The two planets' separation will diminish from 12.5 to 9 degrees over the month. The 13.4 arc-seconds-wide disk of Uranus will be easiest to view just before dawn when it will be highest — but better viewing conditions are ahead.
This year, the pretty Pleiades star cluster will shine a fist's width to Uranus' east. The waning crescent moon will shine binocular-close to the upper right of Uranus on July 12.
Neptune will spend this year among the stars of western Pisces, positioned about 20 degrees to the east of Saturn.
As July begins, the distant, blue, magnitude 7.8 planet will rise in the late evening and climb high enough for telescope viewing in the hour before dawn.
At month's end, Neptune will be well-positioned for observation from midnight onwards. On July 1 Neptune will commence a small, but lengthy westerly retrograde loop that will last until early December. The medium-bright stars 27 and 29 Piscium shining 2 degrees below Neptune, and the less-bright star 20 Piscium shining about 1 degree to the planet's west-southwest, will aid your search.
Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50% 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 fainter objects, such as meteors, dim stars, nebulas, and galaxies, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Avoid looking at your phone's bright screen by keeping it tucked away. If you must use it, set the brightness to minimum — or cover it with clingy red film.
Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars, and the brightest planets - if they are above the horizon. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the fainter constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that is the disk of our home galaxy, the Milky Way — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you're stuck in a city or suburban area, use a tree or dark building to block ambient light (or moonlight) and help reveal fainter sky objects. If you're in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be outside for more than a few minutes, and it's not a warm summer evening, dress more warmly than you think is necessary. An hour of winter observing can chill you to the bone. For meteor showers, a blanket or lounge chair will prove to be much more comfortable than standing, or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
Daytime skywatching: On the days surrounding first quarter, the moon is visible in the afternoon daytime sky. At last quarter, the moon rises before sunrise and lingers into the morning daytime sky. When Venus is at a significant angle away from the sun it can often be spotted during the day as a brilliant point of light - but you'll need to consult an astronomy app to know when and where to look for it. When large sunspots develop on the sun, they can be seen without a telescope — as long as you use proper solar filters, such as eclipse glasses. Permanent eye damage can occur if you look at the sun for any length of time without protective eyewear.