Looking Up: Mars Meets The Moon

Feb 17, 2020

On the above sky chart above, we don’t show the moon for February 18, 2020, because – from a good swath of North America – it’ll actually be in front of Mars, and covering over the red planet. The moon, forever in motion in front of the constellations of the zodiac, swings in the vicinity of Jupiter on February 19 and to the south of Saturn on February 20.
Credit EARTH & SKY / earthsky.org

Mars does a disappearing act in the early morning sky on February 18. But not to worry, it's just hiding behind the moon, as Hal explains on this week's Looking Up.

We’ve talked before about how the planets revolve around the Sun in pretty much a flat plane that is roughly circular. And remember too that the moons going around the planets in the Solar System are also going around in that same basic plane. That means that every now and then, from a particular observer’s point of view, planets and moons can seem to get very close to each other, and in fact, pass one in front of the other. And that’s what’s going to happen in the Southern Colorado sky tomorrow morning in the wee hours.

It seems that things are lined up nicely for the Moon, seen as a small crescent, to pass in front of the bright red planet Mars at about 4:39 MST. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see Mars pop out from the other side, as the Sun will be up by then, and it will be too bright to see anything. But even a small telescope or binoculars should give you a pretty good show if you are up and around that early tomorrow. It will all be happening low in the East, so you’ll need a fairly unobstructed view that direction.

The Moon and Mars are not, of course, actually near each other. The Moon is about 248,000 miles away, while Mars is over 180 million miles away. But tomorrow morning, they will look like neighbors. Cool!

If you’d like to take a closer look at any of the wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.