VERY CAREFUL NOT TO OBSERVE SUN DIRECTLY!
INSTANT BLINDNESS CAN OCCUR!!!
Instruments can explode!!! Cease viewing before Sun actually rises if you're using binoculars or telescope!!!
July 14th, 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft, about 3 billion miles from Earth, imaged Pluto close up for first time ever, flying by about 7000 miles away. Note ice field in shape of large heart, see other images at the Mission site (link on homepage of this site).
PLANET and SKY INFORMATION: (updated December 28th, 2015)
Planet Parade: Mercury is in conjunction with the Sun, will appear low in predawn eastern sky by early January. Lineup of three bright planets in eastern predawn sky: Jupiter rises around midnight, Mars at 230 AM, and brilliant Venus 430 AM (along with Comet Catalina), and now Saturn around 630 AM highest to lowest across eastern sky before dawn. Uranus and Neptune are easy to spot with telescope in SW evening sky if you have a chart to guide you to their locations.
The really interesting situation that will begin to occur by mid January and extend through mid February, is that along with the five naked-eye visble planets, the Moon will join the grouping as it wanes, and the comet (see below) will also be in the sky during those hours and may brighten to naked eye visibility. That would make quite a collection of Solar System objects to view in just a few minutes standing under a clear sky. Remember that these objects all appear to lie along the ECLIPTIC (the apparent path of the Sun across the daytime sky). Why? Think of a room full of standing people, view the relative positions of their heads from where you are standing (anywhere) as projected on the walls behind them. Now if the people begin walking about the room, and you begin tracing the apparent paths of their heads projected onto all the walls, what pattern does that trace make? A continuous circle around the room! (You'll never see their heads projected against the ceiling or floor, just to a relatively narrow band (heightwise) around the room, that's the Ecliptic (the constellations that lie along that band are the twelve (or thirteen) Zodiacal constellations deemed so significant by ancient astronomers/astrologers :). See why the Sun and all the other solar orbiting objects appear to always appear along this path? The only exceptions are the asteroids and comets with "oddball" orbits inclined to the ecliptic plane, due to being tossed out there by the gravity of the larger planets. This means they could approach Earth from any direction, thus making our search for objects potentially on collision course with Earth even more challenging, as we really do have to look in all directions even though most objects in our Solar System travel reasonably close to the Ecliptic plane.
The bright whitish star, Fomalhaut is the only bright star now in the southern evening sky.
The Big Dipper is now very low to the northwest in early evening. The Summer Triangle is sinking lower in west each evening, featuring bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair.
The great square of Pegasus begins to dominate overhead by mid evening, with the large "W" of Cassiopeia to the left of Pegasus.
Note the different colors of stars, why do they appear different? (Think of electric stove burner element...yes, their temperature...reddish stars have outer temperatures vicinity of 5000 degrees, bluer stars in neighborhood of 20,000 degrees...why aren't there greenish stars?)
The bright stars Capella, in constellation Auriga to NE, and Aldebaran in Taurus, to the East, are visible just after dark, and Orion rises by early evening. Later in the evening, the Winter cast of characters: Canis Major, Canis Minor, Gemini, and friends are populating the entire sky. By pre-dawn, the Spring constellations appear in the eastern sky, led by Leo with its bright stars Regulus and Denebola, and also by Bootes, the ice-cream cone shaped constellation with the very bright organgy star, Arcturus, at the base of the cone.
Watch for news about Comet Catalina, which may brighten over next several months. This comet is headed toward Arcturus, then continues toward the Big Dipper. Predictions of apparent brightness are very uncertain but there's always the chance that the comet will become naked eye visible.