Ever since Perseverance, the car-sized rover, landed on the floor of Mars on Feb. 18, renewed curiosity within the pink planet has soared. One of many questions that has been requested in latest weeks, is the place is it within the present night time sky?
Mars has truly been a relatively distinguished night object for a number of months, and actually at one-point final October it was the third-brightest object within the nighttime sky.
However that has all modified and Mars has since diminished significantly in brightness. Nonetheless it’s nonetheless readily seen to the unaided eye and on Friday night (March 19) you’ll readily establish it due to its proximity to our nearest neighbor in area: the moon.
At dusk on Friday night, look greater than midway up from the west-southwest horizon. There you may see a crescent moon, 35% illuminated. And hovering simply off to its decrease proper will probably be a reasonably vibrant yellow-orange “star.” However that is no star — it is Mars, which continues to recede from Earth and consequently continues to fade. And it could be tough to consider that about 5 months in the past it shone some 33 occasions brighter.
On Friday it is going to be 153.three million miles (246.6 million kilometers) away and shining at magnitude +1.2; on the record of the 21 brightest stars, Mars would at the moment rank 18th; fairly a come down from early October 2020, when it shone with brilliance that rivaled the good planet Jupiter. By way of obvious measurement, the disk of Mars is downright tiny; solely a big newbie telescope is more likely to present any dusky markings on it.
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The hole separating the moon from Mars will probably be equal to about three levels, which by way of angular measurement is barely larger than the size of the three stars that make up the belt of Orion, the hunter.
Mars 1942 redux
The orbit of Mars, like that of Venus has a resonance with that of Earth, although a much less easy one: within the time for Earth to go across the solar 79 occasions, Mars goes round virtually 42 occasions. Thus, in every Earth yr Mars travels a bit of greater than half of its orbit across the solar. If it traveled precisely half, we might cross Mars — that’s, there can be an opposition — every second yr, on the similar month and place. As it’s, the oppositions happen about as soon as each two years and about 50 days.
So proper now, Mars is repeating its habits of 79 years in the past, in 1942. What’s all the time completely different is the sample of its conjunctions with the transferring array of different planets. Mars is often concerned in lots of extra conjunctions — which means it shares the identical celestial longitude and seems to make an in depth strategy to a different object within the night time sky — than are the extra distant planets as a result of its lengthy course round our sky carries it in entrance of them.
Mars is at the moment positioned towards the celebs of Taurus, the bull. In reality, it’s hovering about 7 levels to the higher left of a star which is noticeably brighter: Aldebaran, which marks the indignant eye of the bull. And certainly, again in late March 1942, Mars had a really comparable conjunction with Aldebaran.
Simply do not get the planet confused with the star! Each objects will probably be of the same orange colour, however on Friday night time Mars would be the dimmer and nearer object to the moon.
Joe Rao serves as an teacher and visitor lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Pure Historical past journal, the Farmers’ Almanac and different publications. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Fb.