The Moon is going to occult Mars and you really should get up early to see this

The Moon occults Mars on Thursday, December 8, 2022, when the red planet is also at opposition. This rare sight deserves to wake up a little earlier. This astronomical phenomenon is visible to the naked eye.

There is a very good reason to get up early this Thursday, December 8, 2022. A rare astronomical phenomenon is taking place: the occultation of Mars by the Moon. The planet, as well as our terrestrial satellite, will be particularly visible, because both at the opposition. ” The phenomenon will be easy to observe with the naked eye “, according to the Institute of Celestial Mechanics and Ephemeris Calculation (IMCCE). With the exception of capricious weather, you should be able to easily enjoy this phenomenon from your garden or your window.

Starting at 6:41 a.m., the Moon occults Mars for about an hour, in the constellation of Taurus. What will happen exactly? ” In the early morning of December 8, the red planet will […] disappear from the skies, in appearance, for a little less than an hour, hidden as it will be by the lunar disc », summarizes the IMCCE on its site entirely devoted to this occultation of Mars.

Obstruction of Mars by the Moon, in the constellation of Taurus. // Source: IMCCE

The occultation of Mars occurs while it is in opposition, but what does that mean?

The phenomenon is all the more remarkable as the occultation coincides precisely with the opposition of Mars. Opposition is an excellent time to observe a planet, with the naked eye, binoculars or with a telescope. This designates a configuration between two stars, seen from a third: Mars is opposite the Sun, from our point of view. When the Sun sets, Mars rises. You can see it all night long. This also means that the planet is, at the time of opposition, closest to the Earth in its orbit.

On December 8, Mars is in opposition at 6:41 a.m. Its distance from the Earth is then 0.55 astronomical units, or about 82 million km. ” With the naked eye, we will just see that it is more shiny and red », comment on Twitter the astrophysicist Eric Lagadec, from the observatory of the Côte d’Azur.

As for the Moon, it is also at the opposition on Thursday, December 8, at 5:08 am exactly. In this case, we more commonly speak of a full moon. It just means that its surface observable from Earth is completely illuminated by the Sun.

What do we see during the occultation of Mars by the Moon?

We will see little by little Mars, very bright in front of the stars of the constellation of Taurus, disappear behind the lunar limb. Mars is currently moving in a retrograde motion. Seen from the Earth, the planet gives the impression, since October 31, of receding (or making a zigzag) in the sky. In reality, it continues to advance in its orbit around the Sun and nothing abnormal is happening. This backward movement is only apparent.

An occultation of Mars by the Moon occurred on September 6, 2020: next picture shows the almost complete disappearance of Mars behind the Moon. This gives an idea of ​​what awaits us on December 8, 2022.

Who can see the Mars occultation on December 8?

The following map shows where the Mars occultation phenomenon will be visible on Earth. Canada, United States, Mexico, Europe and North Africa can attend.

Visibility map of the phenomenon.  // Source: IMCCE
Visibility map of the phenomenon. // Source: IMCCE

If we could see the situation from Mars, what would it look like? An animation broadcast on December 1 by Tony Dunn, a physics teacher at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, allows us to realize this.

The opportunity to observe such a spectacle is truly rare. Due to the elliptical (oval) orbit of Mars, not all oppositions on the planet are alike. Some are better than others to contemplate, recalls the Royal Astronomical Society. ” For the rest of the decade, the planet will be more distant than this month. It will not be closer to the Earth before 2033, and it will be necessary to wait until 2037 for it to be as well placed in the sky. »

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