“You Don’t Want to Miss This”: How to View the Mars Lunar Occultation

A close-up of what it would look like for Mars to disappear behind the Moon on Wednesday evening. (Ryan Boyce, Stellarium 0.15.0)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Look up to the sky this week for a mystery – the moon’s occultation of Mars.

Starting Wednesday night, the moon will slowly rise toward Mars, until around 7:40 p.m., when it overtakes the red planet, covering it completely for about 70 minutes, until Mars reappears on the other side.

There’s no Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s a new astronomical event accessible to stargazers of all abilities. It’s a sight that will be visible to naked-eye stargazers since Mars is at its brightest in its roughly 26-month rendezvous cycle with Earth and you can’t miss the near-full moon. Viewing improves if you can view the visible obstruction with binoculars or a telescope.

Kevin Bo, Owner and Operator Dark Ranger Telescope Tours You hope Utah isn’t afraid of the spooky juvenile’s name and will venture in to take a look.

“Whatever you do,” he said, “don’t hide in your basement, because you don’t want to miss this.”

Watch the act of Celestial Vanishing

The disappearance of the moon, according to International Association of Timers of AbsenceIt occurs when the moon passes in front of another celestial body.

University of Utah astronomer Paul Ricketts adds that this is caused by the movement of the moon. If you look close enough on any given night, you can see the moon’s position change relative to the stars around it. With this motion, the Moon will slide in front of Mars on Wednesday night.

The exact time of unseen varies based on the location, according to earthsky.org. In Utah, that’s the equivalent of a few minutes difference, per in-the-sky.org; For example, it will be visible from 7:41 PM to 8:46 PM on Salt Lake Cityor from 7:42 p.m. to 8:50 p.m Logan.

Timing matters. If you get there late, Ricketts said, you will miss the invisibility and need to wait an hour for it to reappear. And while you can see this with the naked eye, Ricketts added, you wouldn’t be able to witness the “contact” Mars is making with the Moon without the aid of large binoculars or a telescope.

However, this should not deter anyone from taking an elk.

“You can literally go to your backyard to see it, because (the Moon and Mars) are very bright objects,” he said.

At its location in southern Utah, Bo, who will be at his observatory hosting an observing party Wednesday night, will enter and exit Mars at roughly the center of the moon, said Bo. What would this event look like through binoculars or a telescope?

View the lunar occultation of Mars on December 7th.
View of the moon’s occultation of Mars on December 7 (Image: Ryan Boyce, Stellarium 0.15.0)

“One of the best ways[to describe an incontinence]is to call it a pimple,” he said, analogous from dermatology. “What you will see is that the moon will have a bright red-orange pimple (which) eventually moves behind (the moon).”

Instead of a Martian pimple appearing, he continued, it will recede to the lunar surface, where it will disappear.

Rare event

Lunar disappearances of various celestial bodies happen often, but Mars visible in Utah is rare. Ricketts said he believes only a couple have occurred in Utah in the past few decades. Bo said Utah won’t have another such variant until 2059.

The Moon will cut in front of Mars again on January 30, 2023; However, the complete disappearance would hardly miss Utah, According to in-the-sky.org. Bo expects to see this from his vantage point near Bryce Canyon, a grazing occultation, as Mars hops on the edge of the moon. He sees complete occultation and occultation occurring in the same place over a short period of time—three lunar cycles—more rarely.

Unseen photography is possible, Ricketts said, even with the phone held up to the telescope.

“It’s just a minor note this time, something easier to look at,” he said. “Go outside and watch until you see (Mars) pull away behind the moon.”

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Ryan Boyce is a fan of science and history. His first writing project was compiling a history of space exploration on his third-grade teacher’s computer, and he hasn’t stopped writing since then.

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