Daytime Astronomy: How to See Stars, Planets & the Moon During the Day
You don’t have to ruin your daily routine and stay up all night to enjoy the beauty of the sky. In this guide, you’ll learn which celestial objects can be seen in the sky during the day.
What can we see in the sky in the daytime?
Daytime in astronomy lasts from the moment when the upper edge of the Sun rises just above the local horizon until it fully sinks below the local horizon. Although the sunlight washes out most of the sky objects, you can still observe the Moon, the planets, the brightest stars, and the Sun itself. In this article, we’ve listed the best objects for daytime observations.
What is special about daytime astronomy?
Despite being less popular than night stargazing, daytime astronomy has a lot to offer. It allows detailed study of the Sun and observation of daytime celestial events, such as solar eclipses and solar conjunctions. It also gives a chance to observe the traditional “night sky objects” at a more convenient time.
Dangers of observing the Sun
Caution: never look at the Sun without proper protection! Even looking with the naked eye is dangerous, and looking through a telescope or binoculars can burn the retina of your eye and cause permanent blindness. You can also ruin your telescope or camera by pointing an unfiltered lens directly at the Sun. To avoid this, use a solar telescope filter or practice indirect viewing. You’ll learn more about safe solar viewing methods later in this article.
Starting at twilight
Most daytime astronomical objects are best seen at the edge of day and night. To see more celestial wonders, start your observations with the first signs of sunrise, or watch the sky until the end of sunset. And check out our infographic to learn about the three types of twilight and ensure you don’t miss one.
Comfortable for kids and adults
Daytime is more convenient for teaching kids astronomy because they don’t have to go to bed and it’s warmer outside. Adjusting your telescope is also much easier when you don’t have to rely on a flashlight or do it by touch in the dark. And it allows you to test your binoculars or telescope on nature when you get tired of looking at the sky.
Daytime astronomy tools
In the daytime, the Sun reigns over the sky. So it’s better to have at least a small telescope or a pair of binoculars to see the celestial objects through the Sun’s glare. And don’t forget to use solar filters to protect your eyes and optics. Besides, you can’t use constellations as a reference to locate celestial objects in the daylight. Fortunately, there are helpful tools like Sky Tonight — an astronomical app that shows you the object’s position in the sky above and informs you about upcoming celestial events through its calendar feature.
This may surprise you, but the Moon, a traditional night symbol, is visible in daylight almost every day. Sure, it’s a little washed out against the blue sky, but you can still explore its features with optics or the naked eye.
When can you see the Moon during the day?
There are only two times when the Moon cannot be seen during the day — during the Full Moon and New Moon phases. But during all other phases, you can catch a glimpse of the daytime Moon if you look carefully. It’s best to observe the Moon in the evenings during the First Quarter phase and in the mornings during the Last Quarter phase because it stays in the sky for a long time during the day and is bright enough to compete with sunlight.
Find out the Moon’s phase and its rise and set times for your location in the Moon tab of the Sky Tonight calendar.
Why can you see the Moon during the day?
First, the Moon can be seen during the day because it’s large enough and close enough to the Earth that scattered daylight doesn’t completely wash it out. Second, the Moon, Sun, and Earth constantly move, changing their relative positions over time. During the Full Moon phase, the Moon sets as the Sun rises, and we can’t see it during the day. As the Moon continues to move, it rises later each day and spends more and more time in the sky after sunrise. During the New Moon phase, the Moon is in the sky all day, but we don’t see it because its illuminated side is facing away from the Earth.
Planets during the day
Venus, Jupiter, and Mars are the brightest and, therefore, the easiest planets to observe during the day. If you have clear skies and good eyesight, you can see them with the naked eye, but you need to know where to look. Use the Sky Tonight app to locate the planets:
- Type the name of the desired planet in the search field.
- Tap the target button to the right of the planet’s name to see its position on the sky map.
- Tap the compass button or point your device at the sky. The image on the screen will match the real sky above you. Move your device following the white arrow until you find the planet’s location.
Mercury, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune can all be seen during the day too, but you’ll need at least a small telescope to spot them.
You can use the Moon as a guide to help you find certain planets. Check out our dedicated article to find out when the Moon is near planets. It’s also possible to observe some planets alongside the Sun during the day, but you must be careful not to damage your eyes or telescope.
Stars during the day
The stars are too faint to be easily seen with the naked eye during the day, but you can use binoculars or a telescope. The best target for daytime stargazing is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky after the Sun. To locate it, use the Sky Tonight app. At sunset, if your eyesight is sharp, you may even try to see Sirius with your own eyes, but the chances are really low. There is a better chance of seeing stars during the solar eclipse, which we discuss later in this article.
Check the list of the brightest stars in the sky and observe them with a telescope during the day!
Satellites during the day
If you’re stargazing on a clear day, you may be able to see bright artificial satellites, such as the International Space Station (ISS). It looks like a fast-moving, bright star crossing the sky from one horizon to another. The ISS orbits the Earth 16 times a day, but it flies over different parts of the Earth and has a variable brightness, so you won’t spot it every day. To find out when the ISS and other satellites will be visible from your area, use the Satellite Tracker app. It provides information on all visible satellite passes and allows you to set reminders.
Daytime meteor showers
Daytime meteor showers are meteor showers with radiant points close to the Sun. So most of their meteors are washed out by the sunlight, but you can catch some “shooting stars” in the twilight before the Sun is completely up or when it begins to sink below the horizon. Here is the list of the best daytime meteor showers:
- Daytime Capricornids-Sagittariids (January 13 — February 4)
- Daytime Arietids (May 14 — June 24)
- ζ-Perseids (May 20 — July 5)
- β-Taurids (June 5 — July 17)
- Sextantids (September 9 — October 9)
In addition to regular meteor showers, occasional fireballs can flash across the sky. They can reach a visual magnitude of -4, which is bright enough to be seen during the day. Most of the bodies that cause fireballs burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, although sometimes some of their fragments (called meteorites) survive to the ground.
The Sun is the most obvious thing to observe during the day. However, looking at it directly is dangerous, so you must take proper precautions.
How to safely look at the Sun?
There are two ways to look at the Sun safely. First, use a solar filter for your telescope or special solar eclipse glasses if you observe it without optics. Remember that regular solar glasses are not enough to save your eyes when looking directly at the Sun. And if you look at the Sun through a telescope without a proper filter, you’ll burn your eyes and ruin your telescope.
The second way is indirect viewing or pinhole projection. This method is particularly interesting to use during a partial solar eclipse and doesn’t require any special equipment. You can do this using your hands:
- Make a small gap between your thumb and forefinger.
- With your back to the Sun, look at your hand’s shadow on the ground.
- You’ll see the projection of the partly eclipsed Sun on the ground.
If you’re observing the eclipse near trees, you can also look at the shadows of leaves on the ground. During the eclipse, the small gaps between the leaves will act as pinhole projectors and create images of the crescent Sun on the ground, allowing you to observe the eclipse safely.
Solar eclipse viewing
Solar eclipses are the most exciting daytime astronomical events but are also rare. During annular eclipses, you’ll see the beautiful “ring of fire” around the Moon, and during total eclipses, the solar corona will pop up. In addition, the brightest stars and planets briefly become visible to the naked eye. However, you may not want to waste your time looking at them in detail instead of watching the eclipsed Sun.
Check out the list of the upcoming solar and lunar eclipses with the timelines and visibility maps in our colorful infographic.
In addition to astronomical events, you can observe the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. Because many of them are unpredictable, they are even more exciting to witness.
Here are some of the atmospheric effects you can see during the day:
- Rainbow — the most common optical effect caused by the refraction of light through water droplets;
- Halo — a ring of light that forms around the Sun (or the Moon) due to the refraction of light through ice crystals;
- Sundog — a colored patch of sunlight that appears on the side (or both sides) of the Sun. It is caused by the refraction of light through ice crystals and is also known as a mock Sun;
- Sun pillar — a vertical shaft of light that extends upward or downward from the Sun (or another bright light source). It is caused by the refraction of light through ice crystals.
Here are atmospheric effects occurring at the edge of day and night:
- The “green flash” — a flash of green light that appears near the Sun’s disk just as it sets or rises;
- Noctilucent clouds — silvery or bluish-white clouds that form at higher altitudes than any other cloud type and are visible around sunset and sunrise under specific weather conditions;
- Magic (blue and golden) hours — twilight times when the sky is blue or golden, providing beautiful and unique lighting for photos;
- Finally, sunrise and sunset themselves provide an excellent view for observation or astronomical photography.
You can also see the eerie zodiacal light in the twilight of the spring and fall months. But note that this light isn’t coming from the Earth’s atmosphere — it’s reflected from the dust particles in the inner Solar System.
During the day, you can see the Moon, planets, bright stars, satellites, and meteors. All you need is a little knowledge, planning, and luck! You can also observe the most obvious target — the Sun — but don’t forget to use solar filters. Besides, you can enjoy the beautiful effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. Download the Sky Tonight astronomy app to locate celestial objects in the day and night sky, and follow us on social media to stay updated on the best stargazing events!
Text Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.