Early birds on Friday (August 18) will almost certainly spot the last quarter (“half”) of the Moon in the east of the sky. Just a couple of degrees below it will float a bright golden-orange object that will be of increasing interest to skywatchers in the coming weeks and months.
The object in question is the planet Mars.
Also, in addition to the M&M (Moon and Mars) show, you can also see the famous Pleiades star cluster, commonly known as the Seven Sisters, located about five degrees up to the left of Mars. The moon will not be exactly in the middle between them. If you have binoculars, check out this trio; with standard 7x field binoculars, you can fit all three in the same field of view.
Related: See the moon bouncing over Uranus in the night sky on August 1st. eighteen
And about eight degrees to the left and below Mars is the Hyades V-shaped star cluster, which marks the face of the Taurus Bull. But the brightest star in V does not belong to the Hyades at all. It’s just an innocent observer shining in the same direction as the stars in the cluster, completing the V-shape almost perfectly. This bright star glows in the same hue as Mars, a golden orange. This is Aldebaran marking the angry right eye of the Bull.
Aldebaran is one of the 21 brightest stars in the sky, but at this point in time it seems to be half as bright as Mars. In fact, the red planet is slowly getting brighter as it approaches our Earth for the next three and a half months.
Timeline of Mars
2022 is off to a bad start for Mars. It was much dimmer at the beginning of the year; about a quarter less bright than it appears now, far below the east-southeast horizon and hard to see against the bright pre-dawn twilight sky.
But especially in recent weeks, it noticeably gains height and brightness in the morning sky.
Even on New Year’s Day, Mars was among the stars of the non-zodiacal constellation Ophiuchus, recently (October 8, 2022) passing behind the Sun, and then (December 27) north of its “rival”, the bright red star Antares.
But it wasn’t until early April, after a tight conjunction with Saturn, that Mars began to rise a full two hours ahead of the Sun and brighten up to magnitude +1. On May 30, passing very close to Jupiter, he crossed the celestial equator into the northern hemisphere of the sky. On June 21, it reached the part of its orbit closest to the Sun, but the Earth, moving in its own orbit to catch up with Mars, was still 125 million miles (200 million kilometers) away.
Mars moved from Aries to Taurus in August. 9 and will remain within that constellation until early next spring.
Currently, March rises just before midnight and Aug. 23 is 1 astronomical unit, or 92.9 million miles (149.5 million km) from Earth. Aug. On 26 it forms a right angle (called a “square”) with the Sun and Earth, and as it continues to get brighter, it begins to draw attention to itself in the late evening eastern sky.
Each time the Earth begins to move past Mars in our respective orbits, Mars appears to form a loop in the sky, causing its eastward progression through the constellations to slow down – it stops – and then apparently move back towards the West. . This is known as retrograde and causes Mars to rotate towards us as we pass it. Mars becomes stationary on October 30 and then begins its cycle back to the west, which will continue until the middle of next January.
This culminating time is centered at opposition during the night hours of December 7-8, but since this part of Mars’s eccentric orbit is tilted outward, its closest approach to Earth at 50.6 million miles (81.4 million km) occurs on December 1.
This will be the culmination of the current vision, the brightness of Mars will increase significantly, and it will appear more than five times brighter (at magnitude -1.8) than it is now; shining with a steady fiery light among the bright winter stars.
More moon dates
If the sky is cloudy in your area early Friday (August 18), don’t worry. Every month during the year there will be new meetings of the Moon and Mars: September 16, October 14-15, November 10 and December 7.
This last meeting will be something special. South of a line running roughly from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico northeast to Boston, Mars will appear to touch the lower limb of the full moon, while north of this line the moon will appear to eclipse or obscure it; quite a rare sight.
Mark your calendars!
If you’re hoping to get a good photo of this event, check out our guide on how to photograph the Moon, as well as the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography. You can also check out our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars to see the Moon and Mars in the sky.
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. (will open in a new tab). He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine. (will open in a new tab)Farmer’s Almanac (will open in a new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) and on facebook (will open in a new tab).