News alert from that big space above our heads: tonight there will be a very cool thing happening in the sky! If you’re living in the southern U.S. or Mexico (even all the way to northern parts of South America), you get a chance to see the moon pass in front of the red planet Mars, as reported by Travel + Leisure.
Much of what transpires in the heavens that awe us has to do with stellar objects blocking each other (eclipses) or moving closer together, or the full moon showing up twice in one month… or of course the experience of seeing a full-on meteor shower filling the night sky with hundreds of brief, brilliant lines of travel.
Tonight’s performance stars the moon, which will upstage Mars by passing right in front of it. This bit of scene-stealing is called a lunar occultation. Southern states will have a great view, but if you’re further north, you can still see what may be possible; binoculars or a telescope may make it more likely.
Where can I learn more about the moon “occulting” Mars tonight?
Great verb, right? We all should occult more often. Satan would be happy. Here’s a site that describes things more technically, thanks to EarthSky.org.
How is Mars fighting back?
No one wants to give up the spotlight, and Mars is no different. Although the moon is very bright tonight, as a waxing gibbous moon, it is only 74 percent illuminated as seen by Earth while defensive Mars will be 92 percent illuminated. Take that, moon!
What if I’m in a midwest state or even farther north?
In-the-sky.org created a map of where you’re likely to see the lunar occultation, so if you can find your state on a map without state lines drawn on it, you’ll know. What you learned in fourth grade finally comes into play.
Can you just even tell me about two big cities?
Yes. In Los Angeles, step outside (or better yet, drive to a place where the sky isn’t blocked and there’s not much light pollution) around 8:35 p.m. when the moon starts bossing Mars around. Mars will reappear, undaunted, around 9:29pm In Miami, look for the showdown at 12:37am and for Mars to come back at 1:27am.
Where on earth should I look for this?
Actually, it’s “where in the sky.” Duh! Look to the west-northwest horizon.
My cow is wondering about the “graze path.”
Smart cow. This 13-mile-wide swatch of Earth gets to see Mars graze along the surface of the moon, disappear slightly, then reappear on the other side. According to T+L, two good graze path cities are Kanab, UT, and Brunswick, GA.
Crap. I’m not in the graze path or anything.
It’s okay. If you live in the northern U.S. or Canada, you can still watch Mars nearly bump the moon as it sails along above it. It’s not as good as disappearing but it’s still worth a look.
Want to book a cool Airbnb for the lunar occultation? See if this is available tonight.