A clear night sky offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects to see — stars, constellations, and 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. Binoculars or a good beginner telescope will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. You can also use astronomy apps and software 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 and Chris at @Astrogeoguy.
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.
Night Sky Guides:
Calendar of Observing Highlights
Tuesday, June 1 — Half moon below Jupiter (predawn)
For several hours preceding sunrise on Tuesday, June 1 the waning, half-illuminated moon will shine a slim palm’s width to the lower right (or 5 degrees to the celestial south) of the very bright planet Jupiter. The pair will just squeeze into the field of view of binoculars (red circle). Somewhat fainter Saturn will be positioned to the right (celestial west) of them. The trio will make a lovely wide field photograph when composed with some interesting landscape.
Wednesday, June 2 — Third quarter moon (0724 GMT)
The moon will officially reach its third quarter phase at 3:24 a.m. EDT (0724 GMT) on Wednesday, June 2. The name for this phase refers not to the moon’s appearance — but to the fact that it has completed three quarters of its orbit around Earth, measuring from the previous new moon. At third quarter our natural satellite always appears half-illuminated, on its western side — toward the predawn sun. It rises in the middle of the night and remains visible in the southern sky all morning. The ensuing week of moonless evening skies will be ideal for observing deep sky targets.
Saturday, June 5 — Transiting shadows merge on Jupiter (2322–0139 GMT)
On Saturday, June 5, lucky observers across most of Europe and Africa will be treated to a rare treat in the eastern predawn sky! 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 planet’s disk. Starting at 2:22 a.m. EEST Io’s smaller shadow will join Ganymede’s larger shadow already making its way across Jupiter’s equatorial region. Because Io orbits closer into Jupiter, its shadow crosses Jupiter faster — allowing it to catch up to, and then temporarily merge with, Ganymede’s shadow for a few minutes surrounding 3:34 a.m. EEST (0034 GMT). Io’s shadow will then lead Ganymede’s shadow across the rest of Jupiter’s disk until 04:40 a.m. EEST (0140 GMT). Ganymede’s shadow will complete its own passage 40 minutes later.
Sunday, June 6 — Juno at opposition near Messier 10 (all night)
On Sunday, June 6, the major main belt asteroid designated (3) Juno will reach opposition. At that time, Earth will be passing between Juno and the sun, minimizing our distance from Juno and causing it to appear at its brightest and largest for this year. The magnitude 10.1 asteroid will be visible in backyard telescopes all night long. On opposition night, Juno will be traversing the stars of Ophiuchus, and positioned just two finger widths to the left (or 2.5 degrees to the celestial east) of the bright globular star cluster Messier 10. On June 17-18 Juno’s westward motion (red path with labeled date:time) will carry it through that cluster, allowing both objects to appear together in telescopes for several nights.
Monday, June 7 — Old moon near Uranus (before sunrise)
Look low in the east-northeastern sky before dawn on Monday, June 7 to see the old crescent moon shining three finger widths below (or 3 degrees to the celestial southeast) of the magnitude 5.9 planet Uranus — close enough for them to fit together in the field of view of binoculars (red circle). Observers viewing the duo from more southerly latitudes will see them more easily since they’ll be higher and in a darker sky.
Thursday, June 10 — New moon and annular solar eclipse (1052 GMT)
The first solar eclipse of 2021 occurs ten days before the June solstice and 2.3 days past lunar apogee, resulting in an annular eclipse. The moon’s shadow will first touch Earth along the northern shore of Lake Superior at 5:55 a.m. EDT (0955 GMT), and then it will sweep across northwest Greenland and the North Pole. The eclipse will end when the moon’s shadow lifts off the Earth in northern Siberia at 7:29 a.m. EDT (1129 GMT). The partial eclipse will be visible in eastern North America, the North Atlantic, and most of Europe and Asia. When the sun rises at about 5:30 a.m. EDT in the Great Lakes region, it will already be at mid-eclipse and will be approximately 75% obscured by the moon. The partial phase will persist until the moon completely moves off the sun at approximately 6:30 a.m. EDT. (Use Starry Night to look up your local circumstances.) Proper solar filters will be required to view any portion of this eclipse in person; however, it will be widely available to watch online.
Friday, June 11 — Young moon meets Venus (after sunset)
Look low in the west-northwestern sky after sunset on Friday, June 11 where the very young crescent moon will be positioned several finger widths to the lower right (or 3 degrees to the celestial west) of the very bright planet Venus — allowing both objects to appear together in binoculars (red circle). Watch for Earthshine illuminating the darkened portion of the moon. The scene will make a lovely wide field photograph when composed with some interesting landscape.
Saturday, June 12 — Double shadow transit on Jupiter (02:41–03:33 GMT)
The next significant Jupiter shadow transit event of June will occur in the predawn sky on Saturday, June 12, when observers with telescopes in the Atlantic Ocean region, Western Europe, and Western Africa can see two shadows on Jupiter. At 3:43 a.m. BST (0241 GMT), Ganymede’s large shadow will join Io’s smaller shadow already in transit. Io’s shadow will move off the planet at 4:34 a.m. BST (0334 GMT), leaving Ganymede’s shadow to complete its crossing hours later.
Sunday, June 13 — Crescent moon above Mars (early evening)
After sunset on Sunday, June 13, look low in the west-northwestern sky for a young crescent moon shining prettily just a few finger widths above (or 3 degrees to the celestial northeast of) the reddish dot of Mars. The moon and planet can be viewed together in binoculars (red circle) before Mars sets at about 11:30 p.m. in your local time zone.
Thursday, June 17 — First quarter moon (0354 GMT)
When the moon completes the first quarter of its orbit around Earth at 11:54 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 17 (0354 June 18 GMT) its 90-degree angle away from the sun will cause us to see it half-illuminated — on its eastern side. At first quarter, the moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight, so it is also visible in the afternoon daytime sky. The evenings surrounding first quarter are the best ones for seeing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angle sunlight.
Sunday, June 20 — June solstice (0332 GMT on June 21)
On Sunday, June 20 at 11:32 p.m. EDT (0332 GMT on Monday, June 21), 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.
Monday, June 21 — Jupiter reverses direction (wee hours)
On Monday, June 21, Jupiter will pause in its regular eastward motion in front of the distant stars of western Aquarius and then begin a retrograde loop (red curve with dates) that will last until mid-October. The apparent reversal in Jupiter’s motion is an effect of parallax produced when Earth, on a faster orbit, begins to pass Jupiter on the “inside track.” Starting this week, Jupiter will rise before midnight local time, and its 19 degree angular separation from Saturn will slowly decrease.
Wednesday, June 23 — Mars invades the Beehive (after sunset)
In the west-northwestern sky after dusk on Wednesday, June 23, the orbital motion of Mars will carry it directly through the large open star cluster known as the Beehive or Messier 44 in Cancer. The passage will be a terrific sight in a backyard telescope (red circle) — although binoculars will show the cluster’s stars, too. Mars will be telescope-close to the “bees” on the surrounding evenings. The event will be better for observers at southerly latitudes where the cluster will be higher as the sky darkens.
Thursday, June 24 — Full Strawberry Moon (1839 GMT)
The moon will officially reach its full phase on Thursday, June 24 at 2:39 p.m. EDT (1839 GMT). 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. The indigenous Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region call this moon Ode’miin Giizis, the Strawberry Moon. For the Cree Nation it’s Opiniyawiwipisim, the Egg Laying Moon (referring to the activities of wild water-fowl). The Mohawks call it Ohiarí:Ha, the Fruits are Small Moon. The Cherokee call it Tihaluhiyi, the “the Green Corn Moon”, when crops are growing. Because the moon is full when it is opposite the sun in the sky, 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 vertically 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.
Saturday, June 26 — Io’s shadow passes Callisto’s on Jupiter (05:04–0722 GMT)
The last spectacular Jupiter shadow transit event of June will occur during the wee hours of Saturday, June 26. For more than two hours observers in the eastern half of North America and all of Central and South America can use amateur telescopes to watch two of the small, round, black shadows cast by Jupiter’s four Galilean moons cross (or transit) the planet’s disk together. At 1:04 a.m. EDT (0504 GMT) Io’s smaller, faster-moving shadow will join Callisto’s larger shadow already in transit. Io’s shadow will catch up and pass a short distance north of Callisto’s shadow at 2:25 a.m. EDT (or 6:25 GMT) — and then it will lead the way across Jupiter until 3:22 a.m. EDT (0722 GMT). Callisto’s slower shadow will complete its crossing at 4:21 a.m. EDT (0821 GMT).
Saturday, June 26 — Neptune stands still (wee hours)
On Saturday, June 26, the distant blue planet Neptune will pause in its regular eastward motion in front of the stars of eastern Aquarius and begin a retrograde loop (red curve with dates) that will last until early December. The apparent reversal in Neptune’s motion is an effect of parallax produced when Earth, on a faster orbit, begins to pass the planet on the “inside track”. Neptune will be visible in the southeastern sky only during the wee hours of the morning.
Sunday, June 27 — Gibbous moon and Saturn (wee hours until dawn)
Between midnight and dawn on Sunday morning, June 27, look for the yellowish dot of Saturn shining a palm’s width above (or 5 degrees to the celestial north of) the bright, waning gibbous moon. When the moon and Saturn rise over the southeastern horizon at about 11:30 p.m. local time, Saturn will be positioned to the moon’s upper left. By sunrise, the diurnal rotation of the sky will shift Saturn directly above the moon. The pair will fit into the field of view of binoculars (red circle) — with bright Jupiter positioned well off to their upper left (or celestial east).
Monday, June 28 — Bright moon between Jupiter and Saturn (post-midnight)
The moon’s monthly visit with the gas giant planets will continue in the southeastern sky between midnight and dawn on Monday, June 28. After 24 hours the waning gibbous moon will hop to a position below and between Jupiter on the left (or celestial east) and Saturn on the right (or celestial west). The trio will make a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting landscape.
During the opening few days of June, magnitude 3.15 Mercury might be glimpsed sitting very low in the west-northwestern sky after sunset — especially by observers located at southerly latitudes. But the speedy planet will soon become unobservable from anywhere while it heads to solar conjunction, between Earth and the sun, on June 10. For Northern Hemisphere observers, the very southerly declination of Mercury’s orbit during June will prevent the planet from rising very long before the sun, even though its western elongation will be increasing — but those living south of the Equator will be able to see Mercury easily after mid-month and in a dark sky toward month-end. During the final third of June, Mercury will be visible in the east-northeastern predawn sky from both hemispheres. Viewed in a telescope during that time, the brightening planet will exhibit a waxing crescent phase and a shrinking apparent disk size.
Extremely bright (magnitude -3.85) Venus will slowly continue to increase its angle east of the sun during June, but it won’t climb high enough to see in a dark sky after sunset until the end of the month. If you have an unobstructed view of the west-northwestern horizon, look for Venus sitting low in the sky. It will set at about 9:45 p.m. local time on the 1st and at approximately 10:10 p.m. on June 30. Viewed through a telescope during June, Venus will exhibit a 90% illuminated phase and an apparent disk diameter of around 11 arc-seconds. (As always, ensure that the sun has completely disappeared below the horizon before using binoculars or telescopes to view Venus.) Our hot sister planet will be traveling eastward through the stars of Gemini from June 2 to 24. Then it will pass into Cancer, where it will rendezvous with Mars on July 12-13. On June 11 the very young crescent moon will be positioned several finger widths to the lower right (or 3 degrees to the celestial west) of Venus — allowing both objects to appear together in binoculars, and offering a nice photo opportunity.
After spending several months parked halfway up the western evening sky, Mars will rapidly descend into the post-sunset twilight during June. On the first days of the month, the magnitude 1.75 red planet will be shining a palm’s width to the lower left (or 5 degrees to the celestial south) of Gemini’s easterly bright star Pollux, and Mars will set at about 11:30 p.m. local time. On June 8, Mars will move into Cancer where, on June 23, its orbital motion will carry it directly through the large open star cluster known as the Beehive or Messier 44. That passage will be a terrific sight in a backyard telescope or binoculars, especially for observers located at southerly latitudes where the cluster will be higher as the sky darkens. Mars will be telescope-close to the “bees” on the surrounding evenings. Telescope views of Mars during June will show a shrinking, 4 arc-seconds-wide disk. At the end of June, Mars will be setting at 10:30 p.m. local time. Much brighter Venus, positioned about a palm’s width to Mars’ lower right, will already be closing in for their conjunction on July 12-13. Watch for the waxing crescent moon to hop past Mars on June 12-13.
Throughout June, bright, white, magnitude -2.4 Jupiter will shine among the modest stars of western Aquarius — and about two fist diameters to the left (or celestial east) of fainter Saturn. On June 1, Jupiter will rise at about 1 a.m. local time and will remain visible until almost sunrise. Around June 20, Jupiter will begin to rise before midnight. The following day Jupiter will temporarily cease its regular eastward motion and then commence a retrograde loop that will last until mid-October. At the end of June, Jupiter will be rising at about 11:15 p.m. local time, and it will have brightened to magnitude -2.64. Unfortunately, the low summertime ecliptic will prevent the planet from climbing very high before the sky brightens. Telescope views of Jupiter during June will show that its large, banded disk is increasing in apparent diameter from 41.1 to 45.2 arc-seconds. The Great Red Spot will be visible crossing Jupiter’s disk every second or third night. Single transits across Jupiter’s disk by the round, black shadows of its Galilean moons will be commonplace. Double shadow transits will be visible from different parts of the world on June 5, 12, and 26. The waning moon will sit 6 degrees below Jupiter on June 1 and will return to hop past Jupiter on June 28-29.
During May, yellow-tinted Saturn will be located in the southeastern sky, travelling retrograde westward among the stars of Capricornus. The magnitude 0.57 planet will rise at about 12:20 a.m. local time on June 1 and then begin rising before midnight starting a week later. At the end of June Saturn will have brightened to magnitude 0.38 and will then rise at about 10:20 p.m. local time; however, the low summer ecliptic will keep the ringed planet from ever climbing more than one-third of the way up the southern sky. When viewed through a backyard telescope during June, Saturn will exhibit its majestic rings, a number of moons, and an apparent disk size that grows from 17.6 to 18.3 arc-seconds. Saturn’s separation west of Jupiter will increase from 18 to 19.5 degrees during the month, and the waning moon will pass 5 degrees below Saturn on June 27.
Even though blue-green Uranus will be steadily increasing its elongation west of the sun throughout June, the steeply dipping morning ecliptic will prevent the magnitude 5.9 planet, and the stars of southern Aries surrounding it, from climbing very high before the dawn sky begins to brighten. Observers located closer to the equator will be able to view Uranus higher and in a darker sky. Uranus will rise at 4 a.m. local time on June 1, and two hours earlier at month end. The old crescent moon will pass several finger widths below (or 3 degrees to the celestial south) of Uranus on June 7.
During June the distant and slow-moving planet Neptune will be located in the lower part of the southeastern sky in eastern Aquarius. That’s a palm’s width below (or to the celestial south of) the ring of stars that form western Pisces and about two fist diameters to the left (or celestial east) of much brighter Jupiter. On June 26, Neptune will temporarily cease its regular eastward motion and commence a retrograde loop that will last until early December. The blue, magnitude 7.9 planet will become observable in backyard telescopes starting an hour or two after it rises, which will be at about 1 a.m. local time on the 1st and at midnight at month’s end.
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 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.