Watch Mars eclipsed by the moon tonight in a free webcast
Update for December 7: The first of several Mars in Opposition webcasts will begin tonight December 7th at 9pm EST (02am December 8th GMT) and you can watch it live above. The live broadcast will show views of Mars and the Moon from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
This week offers plenty of opportunities to get a great look at the Red Planet.
On Wednesday (December 7), the full moon will be in close proximity to bright Mars during an event known as a lunar occultation. And on Thursday (December 8) Mars will be in opposition, which means that in The Earthheavens, it will be found just opposite the sun. These events also coincide with Mars being near perigee (its closest point to Earth), which happened on 30 Nov.
A perfect storm of astronomical events means it’s a wonderful week to see Mars in the night sky, looking bigger and brighter than usual and easy to spot until full cold moon. And even if you have cloudy skies or can’t get outside, you’re still in luck: There are plenty of opportunities to see Mars at its best this week thanks to several free online live streams.
How to see Mars in person this week
For many parts of North America, Europe and some parts of North Africa, the lunar occultation will be visible in the night sky on December 7th and December 8th.
The show starts about an hour after sunset the constellation Taurus on Dec. 7 for North American skywatchers as the full moon and Mars move close together (in Europe, the event will occur just before sunrise on Dec. 8). Depending on one’s location, the Red Planet will disappear behind the moon before reappearing an hour later.
Sky and Telescope have compiled a guide to when and where you can see mars (opens in new tab)disappear behind the moon this week during a lunar occultation.
Griffith Observatory Live Stream of the Mars Lunar Occultation
On Wednesday (December 7)Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California will host a free online live streaming (opens in new tab) of the lunar occultation of Mars. The show will start at 21:00 EST (0200 GMT on December 8), weather permitting. Mars will disappear behind the moon on 21:31 EST (0231 GMT) and reappear an hour later.
The observatory will also upload a recording of the event on Thursday (December 8) at 11am EST (1600 GMT).
MacDonald Observatory live on Mars at opposition
The McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin, in conjunction with the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, will host a live broadcast of Mars at opposition. The show starts on Thursday (December 8) at 21:00 EST (0200 GMT on December 9) and can be found at The McDonald Observatory YouTube channel (opens in new tab).
Hosts from both observatories will provide commentary during the event, which will include discussions about the geology and history of Mars, as well as spaceflight missions to the Red Planet. Weather permitting, the live broadcast will include live views of Mars in opposition from telescopes at both observatories.
The Virtual Telescope Project is live streaming the moon occulting Mars in opposition
The Virtual telescope project (opens in new tab) will host a free live broadcast of the moon occulting Mars in opposition. The show will start at 22:00 EST on Thursday (03:00 GMT on December 9) and can be found at the project’s YouTube channel (opens in new tab).
What does it mean when Mars is in opposition?
When astronomers say that a planet is in opposition, it means that the planet, the Earth, and the sun are in a straight line, with the Earth in the middle. This arrangement means that the planet is literal opposite the sun, hence the term “opposition,” which makes the planet appear brightly lit from our perspective on Earth.
When the Red Planet is in opposition, it is much brighter than usual and therefore much easier to see in the night sky. This event only happens every 26 months, and the planet’s elliptical orbit means that during some oppositions Mars is closer to Earth than others.
During this week’s opposition, Mars will be closer to Earth than it will be until 2033. The Royal Astronomical Society has gathered great explainer (opens in new tab) of the event, including the video below.
What is a lunar occultation of Mars?
The word “occult” means to hide or hide from view; when astronomers talk about an occultation, they mean an event where one celestial object passes in front of another from an observer’s perspective, hiding the object behind it. In the case of this week’s lunar occultation of Mars, this means that from Earth the moon will appear to be hidden or “covering” the Red Planet. For many viewers, Mars will disappear behind the moon for about an hour before coming back into view.
In any given year, there are enough occultations that there are International Occult Timing Association (opens in new tab) which provides detailed information such as exact locations and times of other occultations.
Griffith Observatory has posted a video explanation (opens in new tab) of the event found below.
Read more: What is an occultation?
Whether you’re new to skywatching or have been practicing for years, don’t miss our guides on the best binoculars and on the best telescopes to see the occultation of Mars and other amazing things in the night sky. To capture the best possible pictures of Mars or the Moon, check out our recommendations for the best astrophotography cameras and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor’s note: If you take a great photo of Mars in opposition or a lunar occultation and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photos, comments, and your name and location to [email protected].