Those of us who enjoy stargazing and observing the night sky can't always plan when and where we're going to get the chance to gaze upwards.

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Busy schedules, light pollution, the weather: sometimes finding even just 30 minutes to stand and stare up at a clear, dark night sky and take in the planets, stars and constellations can be a feat in itself.

So when you do find the time, you'll need to know what's visible in the night sky, and the best things to look out for when stargazing.

Complete newcomer? Read our guide to best telescopes for beginners

Milky Way over Namthing Pokhri Lake Basudeb Chakrabarti, West Bengal, India, 13 March 2022 Equipment: Nikon D5200 DSLR, Tokina 11–16mm lens, tripod
Milky Way over Namthing Pokhri Lake Basudeb Chakrabarti, West Bengal, India, 13 March 2022 Equipment: Nikon D5200 DSLR, Tokina 11–16mm lens, tripod

Here's our stargazing guide to what you can see in the night sky tonight. Our guide is centred around what's visible from the UK, but all northern hemisphere observers should be able to use it, with the odd adjustment to stated times.

In our guide, we use Universal Time (UT) and British Summer Time (BST). UT is the standard time used by astronomers around the world. BST is one hour ahead of UT

We also use RA (Right ascension) and dec. (declination). These coordinates are the night sky’s equivalent of longitude and latitude, describing where an object is on the celestial ‘globe’. For help with these, read our guide to celestial coordinates.

For more advice, read our guide on how to stargaze or sign up to receive the BBC Sky at Night Magazine e-newsletter for weekly tips delivered directly to your email inbox.

What's visible in the night sky tonight?

Tuesday 3 January

M45 - Pleiades Cluster by Raoul van Eijndhoven, Faringdon, Oxfordhsire, UK. Equipment: 80mm triplet refractor, modded Canon 1000D, EQ5 made in to goto, PhD.
M45 - Pleiades Cluster by Raoul van Eijndhoven.

At around 03:30 UT this morning, the 86%-lit waxing gibbous Moon sits 3.1° south of the Pleiades.

This evening, around 19:16 UT, mag. –1.2 Mars is 1.1° north of the 91%-lit waxing gibbous Moon.

How to see them:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Wednesday 4 January

A Quadrantid meteor appears in the night sky along with the Milky Way and the Aurora over Banff National Park, Canada, 3 January 2009. Credit: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images
A Quadrantid meteor appears in the night sky along with the Milky Way and the Aurora over Banff National Park, Canada, 3 January 2009. Credit: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The Quadrantid meteor shower peak is expected around 04:00 UT. A 92%-lit waxing gibbous Moon will interfere.

Earth is at perihelion today, orbitally at its closest position to the Sun.

How to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Friday 6 January

A perigee full Moon (left) appears 30% brighter and 14% larger than an apogee full Moon (right). Credit: Pete Lawrence
A perigee full Moon (left) appears 30% brighter and 14% larger than an apogee full Moon (right). Credit: Pete Lawrence

This evening’s full Moon occurs near lunar apogee, when it is furthest from Earth in its orbit. Appearing subtly dimmer and smaller than an average full Moon, this is informally known as a ‘micromoon’.

How to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Sunday 8 January

Thanks to lunar libration we can observe slightly more than half of the Moon’s surface. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Thanks to lunar libration we can observe slightly more than half of the Moon’s surface. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Thanks to lunar libration, the Moon’s southern polar region is tilted favourably towards Earth – a good time to investigate this crater-heavy region of the Moon.

How to see it:

  • Small / medium telescope: Reflector/SCT under 6 inches, refractor under 4 inches
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Thursday 12 January

A composite image showing the apparent reversal of Mars's movement in the night sky. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A composite image showing the apparent reversal of Mars's movement in the night sky. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Mars reaches a stationary point in the sky. Before this its motion was retrograde, the planet moving west against the background stars. After this date its apparent motion will be prograde, moving east.

How to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Sunday 15 January

Chart showing the location of Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF in January 2023. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Chart showing the location of Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF in January 2023. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is expected to reach mag. +6.3, and tonight into tomorrow morning is located just west of mag. +4.6 Chi (χ) Herculis.

How to see it:

  • Binoculars: 10x50 recommended
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Wednesday 18 January

Mare Orientale Credit: NASA / Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mare Orientale Credit: NASA / Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The waning crescent Moon’s western libration region is tilted towards us. This gives us a better view of the Mare Orientale region, among others. For more info, read our guide to the lunar maria.

How to see it:

  • Small / medium telescope: Reflector/SCT under 6 inches, refractor under 4 inches
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Friday 20 January

The gas giant Jupiter reaches perihelion, the closest point to the Sun in its orbit. Today, it will be 4.95101 AU from the Sun.

How to see it:

  • Large scope: Reflector/SCT over 6 inches, refractor over 4 inches
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Sunday 22 January

Venus and Saturn appear separated by 23 arcminutes this evening. They are closest just before they set at around 18:30 UT.

How to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Monday 23 January

See the Moon, Venus and Saturn close together in the sky on Monday 23 January 2023. This illustration shows the view through 7x50 binoculars.
See the Moon, Venus and Saturn close together in the sky on Monday 23 January 2023. This illustration shows the view through 7x50 binoculars.

A thin, 5%-lit waxing Moon joins Venus and Saturn in this evening’s sky after sunset.

H0w to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Mag. +5.6 comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is currently near mag. +3.3 star Iota (ι) Draconis.

H0w to see it:

  • Binoculars: 10x50 recommended
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Tuesday 24 January

This morning comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is expected to be at mag. +5.6 and passing a couple of degrees east of the mag. +9.9 galaxy M102 in Draco.

H0w to see it:

  • Binoculars: 10x50 recommended
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Wednesday 25 January

A lovely encounter between this evening’s 21%-lit waxing crescent Moon and bright Jupiter can be seen over towards the southwest as the sky darkens.

H0w to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Friday 27 January

Chart showing the location of Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF in Ursa Minor in late January 2023
Chart showing the location of Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF in Ursa Minor in late January 2023. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is close to Kochab (Beta (β) Ursae Minoris) this evening and into tomorrow morning.

H0w to see it:

  • Binoculars: 10x50 recommended
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Sunday 29 January

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is expected to be around mag. +4.9 at present. It is currently close to Polaris, which makes it especially easy to locate. Find Polaris with our guide on how to find the North Star.

H0w to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Monday 30 January

Mercury is at greatest western elongation, separated from the Sun by 25° in the morning sky.

A 64%-lit waxing gibbous Moon is 5° from the Pleiades just before setting this morning.

H0w to see them:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Tuesday 31 January

Bright Mars shines at mag. –0.3 and sits just 1° from the 73%-lit waxing gibbous Moon at 04:15 UT, as the pair approach the northwest horizon when they're setting.

H0w to see it:

  • Naked eye: Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted
  • Photo opp: Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR
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This guide originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.