Watch opposition Mars meet the full moon next week (December 7)
Every once in a while, something will appear in the sky that will catch the attention of even those who don’t normally bother to look up.
That is likely to be the case in the evening hours of Wednesday (December 7), when the full moon will appear in close proximity to the now brilliant planet mars. In fact, the moon will become full at 11:08 PM EST (0408 GMT on December 8), followed by Mars arriving at opposition to the sun just 87 minutes later. This will result in an almost perfect alignment in the space of the sunearth, moon and Mars.
People who don’t know or have no prior notice will almost certainly wonder as they casually glance at our nearest neighbor in space on this first Wednesday of December, what is that “bright orange-yellow light”? Sometimes such cases bring with them a sudden rush of phone calls to radio and television stations, local planetariums, weather services and police stations. Not a few of these calls are excitedly asking about the “mysterious UFO” hovering near our natural satellite!
If you don’t live in one of the locations below that will provide a good chance to see the event in person, you’re in luck: The Virtual Telescope Project will host Mars in opposition live stream (opens in new tab) beginning at 11:00 PM EST on December 7 (0400 GMT on December 8).
Joe Rao is a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest speaker at the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
Where to see the lunar eclipse on Mars
As a bonus, those north and west of a line running roughly from Piedras Negras, Mexico to Louisville, Kentucky to Seabrook, New Hampshire will see the occult moon Mars. See the map of the United States. Those located south and east of this line, however, will see the moon miss the planet entirely, barely passing directly overhead (called the appulse).
But to an observer happened to be positioned right on or adjacent to that line — it’s actually a narrow path about 21 miles (34 km) wide — the moon’s lower limb will appear to literally graze Mars as it passes by.
To those who happen to be along the northern end of the path, the planet’s dazzling topaz disc may appear to disappear entirely, only to reappear periodically in the lunar valleys. In contrast, along the southern edge of the path, the northern edge of Mars will only briefly touch the limb of the Moon.
Among the towns located within the road are Morgantown, WV; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Hudson, New York; Northampton, Massachusetts; Lowell, MA and Seabrook, NH. Refer to the maps of the occultation route of Mars.
Unlike a star, which is a point of light and will disappear and reappear in an instant, Mars appears as a small disk in telescopes; due to its relatively large angular size (17.2 arcseconds in diameter), the occultation will occur at a fairly “relaxed” pace. So it will take anywhere from about 40 seconds to almost a minute for Mars to disappear behind the bright limb of the moon for most locations (or even longer when the limb of the moon approaches it at an angle).
From Austin, for example, the moon’s slow eastward drift will take more than two minutes to fully cover and later reveal the planet’s disk — and even longer for those south and closer to the northern border of the grasslands road , where the limb of the moon will approach even more obliquely.
The re-emergence of the planet will also be gradual. The actual term is called an occultation (Latin for “hides”). One can even call this upcoming event as an eclipse of the planet Mars. Moving east against the background stars at its own apparent diameter every hour, the Moon will appear to approach Mars from the west (right) and eventually pass in front of it, then shortly thereafter reveal it and leave it behind as the moon continues to move eastward.
It is clearly visible only with your eyes
Being able to see the moon occult a bright planet at night doesn’t happen too often; for Mars, for a specific location on Earth, this happens (on average) once every 14 years or so. So if you’re lucky enough to live in the occult zone and the weather gods are cooperating, this upcoming event really shouldn’t be missed.
Since Mars will be in opposition when it has its lunar rendezvous, it will shine brightest for this current vision. Even a normally bright star can be quite difficult to see when it is in such close proximity to the blinding glare of a full moon. Still, because Mars is as bright as it is (magnitude -1.9; almost twice as bright as Sirius, the brightest star), this spectacular extinction can only be seen with the naked eye or binoculars, despite that the best views are sure to be secured with a telescope.
Table 1 provides specific details for 27 selected cities in the United States and Canada. For times with an asterisk
|Table 1: Local conditions for observing the Martian occultation, December 7-8, 2022.||Location||Time zone||Mars disappears|
|Mars reappears||Juno||ACST||6:19 p.m|
|6:55 in the evening||The angels||PST||6:30 in the evening|
|7:30 in the evening||San Francisco||PST||6:34 in the evening|
|7:35 p.m||Seattle||PST||6:51 in the evening|
|7:50 p.m||Vancouver||PST||6:55 in the evening|
|7:52 p.m||Tucson||MST||7:32 p.m|
|8:27 p.m||Las Vegas||MST||7:34 p.m|
|8:35 p.m||Salt Lake City||MST||7:41 p.m|
|8:46 p.m||Denver||MST||7:44 p.m|
|8:48 p.m||Helena||MST||7:51 p.m|
|8:56 p.m||Edmonton||MST||8:04 p.m|
|9:06 p.m||Yellowknife||MST||8:23 p.m|
|9:16 p.m||White horse||MST||8:25 p.m|
|8:57 p.m||Tulsa||CST||8:54 p.m|
|9:41 p.m||Kansas City||CST||8:56 p.m|
|9:52 p.m||Austin||CST||8:57 p.m|
|9:12 p.m||Saskatoon||CST||9:03 p.m|
|10:10 in the evening||Winnipeg||CST||9:05 p.m|
|10:16 in the evening||Chicago||CST||9:10 p.m|
|10:04 am||Memphis||CST||9:14 p.m|
|9:29 p.m||Churchill||CST||9:22 p.m|
|10:31 in the evening||Louisville||Well||10:21 in the evening|
|10:47 in the evening||Toronto||Well||10:29 in the evening|
|11:17 p.m||Montreal||Well||10:40 in the evening|
|11:29 p.m||Quebec City||Well||10:45 in the evening|
|11:36 p.m||Halifax||AST||12:15 am*|
|12:33 am*||Gander||NST||12:47 am*|
The above table gives the civil times of the disappearance and reappearance of Mars behind the moon. Both the disappearance and reappearance of the planet can last anywhere from 40 seconds to over two minutes, depending on whether Mars passes centrally behind the moon (and is covered for an hour or more) or near its lower end in oblivion (and is covered in less than half an hour). Disappearance and reappearance times are for the center of Mars. Table adapted from data provided by International Occult Timing Association (IOTA)(opens in new tab)
(Image credit: Starry Night Software)
Don’t miss this near miss! For the rest of North America, this will be an extremely close approach of the Moon to Mars (called anlanded
). The moon, moving around Earth in an easterly direction at about its own diameter every hour, will appear to creep slowly toward and eventually pass directly over the ocher planet. Although the densely populated Southeastern and Eastern United States will miss out on an occultation, Mars will almost have people watching as it appears to slowly slide below the Moon.
For places like Huntsville, Knoxville, Philadelphia, and New York, Mars will come within just 1 arc minute of the moon’s limb; they will almost appear to be touching each other. To the naked eye, Mars will appear as an amber jewel on the lower edge of the Moon. From Boston, the distance between Mars and the limb of the Moon is even smaller: only 0.6 arc minutes, roughly equal to the apparent width of two diameters of Mars!
After closest approach, the Moon will slowly move away from Mars during the balance of the nighttime hours of December 7th and December 8th.
|Swipe to scroll horizontally||Table 2: Local conditions for observing the pulse of the Moon and Mars, December 7 and December 8, 2022.||Location||Time zone|
|Closest approach||Parting||New Orleans||Well|
|9:11 p.m||3 arc min.||Huntsville||Well|
|9:23 p.m||1 arc min.||Miami||Well|
|10:16 in the evening||11 arc min.||Jacksonville||Well|
|10:23 in the evening||7 arc min.||Atlanta||Well|
|10:26 in the evening||3 arc min.||Colombia||Well|
|10:31 in the evening||4 arc min.||Knoxville||Well|
|10:31 in the evening||1 arc min.||Charlotte||Well|
|10:36 in the evening||3 arc min.||Norfolk||Well|
|10:46 in the evening||4 arc min.||Washington||Well|
|10:46 in the evening||2 arc min.||Philadelphia||Well|
|10:51 in the evening||1 arc min.||new York||Well|
|10:56 in the evening||1 arc min.||Boston||Well|
|11:01 p.m||0.6 arc minutes||San Juan||AST|
|11:51 p.m||23 arc min.||Hamilton||AST|
11 arc min.
The above table gives the civil times (all mornings) of Mars’ closest approach to the edge of the Moon’s lower limb. The distance between Mars and the lower edge of the moon is given in arcminutes (the apparent width of the moon on December 7 is 30 arcminutes).
Example: From Jacksonville, closest approach is 22:23 EST, the separation is indicated at 7 arc minutes, or a fraction approximately 1/4 of the moon’s width will separate Mars from the lower edge of the moon.
Europe too! And after 2022, your next chance
Europeans will also be able to participate in this occultation, although for them this event will occur in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday (December 8) with the moon descending in the west-northwest sky. For Lisbon, Mars will disappear behind the moon at 4:28 a.m. local time and reappear at 5:02 a.m. For Dublin, it’s 4:55 a.m. and 5:56 a.m. London: 5:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. 59 am Berlin: 6:01 am and 6:56 am Paris: 6:04 am and 7:02 am and Madrid 6:21 am and 7:07 am The next auspicious occultation of Mars for North America will occur on January 14, 2025 around 4 hours UT. The moon will be waning about 6 hours after full. Mars enters opposition just two days later. Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest speaker in New YorkHayden Planetarium (opens in new tab) . He writes about astronomyJournal of Natural History. (opens in new tab) on Farmer’s Almanac (opens in new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and onFacebook
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