A thick layer of clouds obstructed our view of the full moon in June, just as it had a month earlier in May. Tonight will be the exact opposite — a new moon and mostly clear skies will give us an extra-dark view of the night sky.
At least it’ll be as dark as it can be given our region’s light pollution.
So no, you will not be able to see a sweeping sky-full of the Milky Way, but there’s still plenty to see. Venus, Jupiter and Mars will be among the planets, along with Cassiopeia, Scorpius and many other constellations.
Around 9 or 10 p.m.
The sun sets at 8:36 p.m., so the sky may still be a little bright at 9 p.m. You’ll still be able to pick out some of the more significant stars and planets at this point. If you want to be sure you’ll see everything you can in the early-night sky, wait until 9:46 p.m. — nautical twilight — and it will be much darker.
Looking east, you’ll see Vega, the second-brightest star in the northern hemisphere, second only to Arcturus, which you will find high in the southwest sky at the same time (in the constellation Bootes). Vega is also the brightest star of the constellation Lyra, so you can check that off the list, too.
Lyra supposedly looked like a falling vulture or eagle, with its wings spread out behind it as it dove toward the horizon. I wouldn’t blame you, though, if you only see in it a childlike drawing of a fish.
Looking southeast you’ll see two planets and a couple of constellations.
Saturn should be bright enough to see around twilight in the southeast sky. To the right of that and a little closer to the horizon, Scorpius will be poking its head up into the sky. The bright star Antares may be visible — it’s the twinkling one, Saturn will have a steady light. But you’ll probably need to wait until it gets a little darker to see the rest of Scorpius’s stars.
Above that, Jupiter will be very close to Libra.
Looking west around the same time, Venus and Mercury will be setting after the sun. It may be very difficult to locate these two planets with dusky light still filtering through the atmosphere, but it’s worth a scan to see if you can spot them.
Venus is very bright, and you will definitely be able to see it if you know where to look. Just after sunset, look to the upper left of where the sun just dipped below the horizon. Venus should be there, but it might take you a few minutes to spot it.
Mercury will be very difficult to track down before it sets on the western horizon. Binoculars may help. If you’ve already found Venus, it will be below and to the right of that planet.
If you look northwest after 9 p.m., Ursa Major and Ursa Minor will be right where they’ve always been since you were a child. The big and little dippers, of course, are not so much spoons as they are mama bear and cub.
You may see only the dipper portion of Ursa Major; the rest of its stars outline what kind of looks like a headless bear upright on two legs. Tilt your head to the right, though, and you’ll see the shape of an animal on all fours, with its tail (Big Dipper handle) up in the air.
While you’re staring at the Ursas, note that you can use the two brightest stars in the Big Dipper to locate Polaris. The North Star is at the end of the handle on the Little Dipper, and it’s sometimes hard to spot. Using the Big Dipper trick will always help you find it.
If you’re out around midnight, you’ll see Saturn and Mars to the south and southeast. Saturn will be right on top of Sagittarius.
Around 3 a.m.
Later in the night, look northeast to see Cassiopeia across the sky from the Big Dipper. This constellation is made of five bright stars that form a sideways “W.” Cassiopeia is named after the apparently vain queen of Aethiopia.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Vega is Earth’s nearest neighbor star. Vega is actually the second-brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere sky.