Ever since Perseverance, the car-sized rover, landed on Mars on February 18, renewed interest in the red planet has skyrocketed. One of the questions that has been asked a few weeks ago is, where is it in the normal night sky?
Mars has been a very prominent evening object for several months, and indeed at one point last October it was the third brightest object in the night sky.
But that has changed and Mars has plummeted dramatically. Yet it is still visible with the unsupported eye and on Friday afternoon (March 19) you will be able to easily recognize it thanks to its closeness to our nearest neighbor in space: the moon .
Related: Best night sky events in March 2021 (star maps)
As night falls on Friday afternoon, look more than half way up from the southwest horizon. There you will see a crescent moon, 35% illuminated. And moving straight to the lower right will be a “medium-bright yellow-orange star.” But that’s not a star – it’s Mars, which is still leaking from Earth and as a result that goes down. And it may be hard to believe that about 5 months ago it shone 33 times brighter.
On Friday it will be 153.3 million miles (246.6 million kilometers) away and glow at +1.2; on the list of the 21 brightest stars, Mars would currently rank at 18; well coming down from early October 2020, when it was shining with a radiance that dominated the brilliant planet Jupiter. Apparently in terms of size, Mars’ disk is quite tiny; only a large amateur telescope is likely to show any obvious signs on it.
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The gap separating the moon from Mars will be about 3 degrees, which in terms of square size is slightly larger than the length of the three stars that make up the Orion belt, the hunter.
Mars 1942 redux
The orbit of Mars, like those of Venus, is very similar to Earth, though not so simple: in the time that the Earth orbits the sun 79 times, Mars orbits almost 42 hours. So in every year on Earth Mars travels a little more than half the orbit around the sun. If it traveled just half, we would pass Mars – that is, it would be a challenge – every two years, at the same month and place. As it is, the opponents happen about once every two years and about 50 days.
So right now, Mars is repeating its behavior 79 years ago, in 1942. What is always different is the pattern of connection with the moving range of other planets. Mars is usually involved in many more assemblages – meaning it shares the same celestial latitude and appears to be approaching something else in the night sky. – what the farthest planets are because the long course around our skies carries it in front of them. .
Mars is currently positioned against Taurus stars, the bull. In fact, it moves about 7 levels to the top left of a much brighter star: Aldebaran, which signifies the angry eye of the bull. And of course, back in late March 1942, Mars had a very similar connection to Aldebaran.
Just don’t bother the planet with the star! Both will be the same orange color, but Friday night Mars will be the lowest and closest to the moon.
Joe Rao will serve as a tutor and guest lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.