With Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars lining up in the southeastern pre-dawn sky this week (April 2020), space fans will be spoilt for choice. However, Neptune and Uranus are still a bit tricky to spot.
“Jupiter, in particular, will shine in fine detail from summer until the end of 2022, with oppositions at both ends of the year.” Lawrence explains.
There’s a big surprise in store for the Earth and its inhabitants this evening: the planet Mars, which will shine significantly brighter than ever before. The Red Planet is at opposition, passing its closest to Earth for the year and opposite the sun in our sky.
It’s also the best chance we have of seeing the planet Mars in our night skies for a while. The Red Planet is close to the Earth at this time of the year, bringing it closer to the light of the sun than it’s been for 15 years.
This will result in the planet’s apparent brightness increasing to a brighter -0.4, making it one of the most visible objects in the sky, especially in clear nighttime skies. And its disc will grow to 12 arcseconds across by the end of the month, making it easier for smaller scopes to spot details on its surface.
The best place to see the Red Planet at night is in the eastern hemisphere, in the constellation Taurus. The planet will be positioned a little to the left or lower left of the Full Moon (aka Cold Moon) in Taurus, and you’ll need to look high above the winter constellation Orion to spot it.
On the morning of August 8, you’ll have another chance to see the Red Planet during an occultation by the Moon in Taurus. The planet will pass near the top-left of the Moon, then reappear on the bottom-right as the Moon moves away from it.
The planet Mars is a wonderful sight in the night sky, and it shines a brilliant, fiery orange-red. The color is caused by iron in the rocks on its surface. But the best part is that it’s just a few million miles away from Earth, so you can look up at it with a pair of binoculars or a telescope without the use of special equipment.
September is a lovely month to observe the planets in the night sky. There is a lot to see including dazzling Jupiter and Venus in the west after sunset. This is a good time to look out for the planet Mars as well.
You can start watching for the red planet mid-month as it becomes brighter and more noticeable in the sky. It will also appear in a “red triangle” in the morning sky near two obvious red stars, orange-colored Aldebaran and reddish Betelgeuse.
In September, Mars will be positioned about 8 degrees north of its bright reddish star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus. It will linger in this position for the next month, making it a great target to watch in the night sky.
When viewed through a telescope, Mars is about 11 arcseconds in diameter and growing. It is also a rapidly moving object.
This means that it changes in brightness on a regular basis, so it’s always exciting to watch. In the evening, for example, you can expect it to appear about a quarter as bright as the Sun, then halve its brightness in the early morning hours.
At other times, however, it will appear more than a half as bright as the Moon. And when it passes close to the Earth, it becomes visible from around the world.
It can be hard to spot Mars in the evening, but if you know where to look, it will be a very attractive feature of the sky at this time of year. You can even watch the waxing gibbous Moon pass in front of it on January 3 at 19:35 GMT, when it is 91% illuminated, says astronomer Pete Lawrence from BBC Sky at Night.
There are two times to catch the planet mars in its best light: When it’s in “approach” Tuesday night — and when it’s in opposition next week. The planet will be much closer to Earth tonight than usual, but the sky will be dark enough for you to see it with the naked eye or with binoculars or a small telescope.
This month, the planet is in Aquarius and its disc is growing larger – it’s now 50% wider than at the start of 2022. Its disk is also now higher in the sky, so it’s easier to spot when it rises from the horizon.
The planet’s brightness is decreasing since its recent opposition on December 8, and it’s becoming harder to see in the illuminated phase – but that shouldn’t stop you from taking in its beauty. It’s still quite a sight in the night sky and, as long as you have a decent-sized telescope or binoculars, you can easily make out some of its surface features.
You may not be able to see Mars’ two moons (Phobos and Deimos) with your binoculars or telescope, but they can be spotted with the naked eye. During January, they’ll be visible in the constellation Taurus, about a degree above the horizon at dusk.
On Monday night, January 30, the waxing gibbous moon will be positioned above the red planet in the southern sky after dusk. Its eastward orbital motion will carry it closely past the red planet throughout the night while the diurnal rotation of the sky shifts the angle between them. You can watch the pair as they cross each other in a backyard telescope (green circle).
Opposition is a big deal for Mars, says BBC Sky at Night presenter Pete Lawrence. It’s the time when Mars appears the brightest and, through the eyepiece of a telescope, the largest. It’s a rare sight, but one you should try to catch during the next few weeks!
Mars is the second-brightest planet in our sky, behind only Jupiter. This November, though, it’s passing near Earth, causing it to shine brighter than usual in our skies. This is called opposition, and it occurs every two years and two months.
During opposition, Earth is in front of Mars, and so the Red Planet appears to stand opposite the Sun. As a result, it rises in the east at sunset, has a high overhead during midnight, and sets several hours before dawn.
The planet will be visible to the naked eye until Tuesday, December 11, when it’ll fade in brightness as it flees from Earth in its smaller, faster orbit. The night of that day, however, the planet will be nearly opposite the moon in the sky, making it a great opportunity to view this fascinating object.
This month, the Red Planet moves from Sagittarius to Capricornus, where it will spend most of 2022. It’s a little brighter than it was at the start of the year, but it still isn’t as big as Uranus.
It’s only about five arcseconds wide, and it shines at magnitude 1.1. In a telescope, it has a disc that is about half the size of Uranus.
If you don’t have a telescope, you can try spotting the planet through a pair of binoculars or an eyepiece in good seeing conditions. You’ll need a fairly large aperture (about 8″ – 10″) to see this planet, and even then you won’t be able to see much detail.
If you’re up for a challenge, look for the planet’s smaller moons, Phobos and Deimos. These are a dim blue-green in color, and are a difficult target for telescopes of any size. But they’re easy to find if you know where to look.
The planet mars burns bright in the night sky this week, but it won’t be as big as you might think. After all, the Red Planet takes 687 days to complete one orbit of our Sun.
As a result, it’s only visible once every 2.1 years. That’s why it’s such a treat for star watchers.
This month, the Red Planet is at its most favorable opposition in the Northern Hemisphere. It also makes a fine pair with Mercury and Venus, low in the southwest.
Look for Mars above the eastern horizon as it comes out of twilight around 8 p.m. It will be surrounded by orange-hued stars in Taurus the Bull, such as Aldebaran and Betelgeuse.
Mars is a bit fainter than these stars, but you can still spot it easily with binoculars or a small telescope. The planet is 17 arcseconds wide in a telescope, and it’ll shrink slightly as it recedes into the horizon.
But it’s still the brightest object in the night sky. You can trace it across the sky, moving towards Jupiter and Saturn – which also shine bright in the evening skies – and then back over towards the west.
On the night of Mars’s opposition, December 7, the Moon will occult it, covering it up in many parts of the world. This is called a “lunar occultation” and can be seen in a livestream, courtesy of the Virtual Telescope Project.
You can find out when Mars will disappear and reappear for your location by using the timetables in the tables below. It’s best to check your favourite stargazing app or website, as the times will vary from place to place.