If there were ever a “dissenter” among the planets visible to the naked eye, this title would certainly go to Mars.
Just nine months ago, Mars was 38.8 million miles (62.43 million kilometers) from Earth, which was the closest since August 2003 and won’t be that close until September 2035. Mars looked three times brighter than Sirius. , the brightest star in our sky, even rivaling Jupiter in brightness. In fact, Mars is considered the third brightest nocturnal object after the Moon and Venus.
But that was then, this is now.
Connected: The brightest planets in the July night sky: how to see them (and when)
Venus shows the way
At the moment, Mars is on the other side of the brightness spectrum. On Sunday evening (July 11), look low in the west-northwest sky about 45 minutes after sunset.
You will be able to use a highly visible test to make an accurate identification, as the first object to grab your attention will be the dazzling Venus. After you find it, look about one degree to the left of it and you will see that Mars looks like a yellowish orange, but by no means a very bright star.
Don’t wait for the eye-popping object that graced our skies in early fall 2020. Rather, right now Mars is much further away from us, at a distance of 231 million miles (371 million km). Thus, Mars will be only 1.7% brighter than nine months ago, and only 0.5% brighter than Venus.
In fact, due to the fact that it is currently luminous at magnitude +1.8, Mars has dropped in rank to the category of a second-magnitude object; To ensure you get a positive result, I highly recommend that you use binoculars.
The moon is floating near
Another object that appears in the vicinity of two planets in the disappearing evening twilight will be the Moon. Two days after the new phase, it will appear as a thin arc of light, illuminated by only 4%, and will be located about half a dozen degrees to the right of the two planets. If your clenched fist is about 10 degrees at arm’s length, then the moon and the two planets will be separated by about half a fist.
All three objects will remain in the sky from west to northwest for approximately 90 minutes after sunset. In fact, Mars is located almost halfway between two other notable celestial objects. 45 minutes after sunset, the sky may still be too bright to easily see the moon and Mars with the naked eye, so as noted, you will probably need binoculars. But after another 15 minutes, the sky will be dark enough for you to easily identify them with the naked eye, although they will all be lower in the sky.
The next evening the picture will change markedly.
July 12 and later
On Monday, July 12, the Moon will expand slightly to 9% illumination and will move to a point almost 7 degrees to the left of the top corner of the two planets. But the position of the planets has also changed; the distance between them will be halved, and now Venus will be about half a degree to the right of Mars.
Venus will continue to become increasingly visible – albeit rather slowly – in the western evening sky until the end of 2021.
As for Mars, it will remain visible as an evening object for a couple of weeks or so, passing close by the bright bluish 1st magnitude star Regulus on July 29th. But as we get closer to August, it will get lost in the brilliant sunset glow, and then there will be a kind of hiatus as it transitions into the morning sky, eventually reappearing in the early morning sky on Thanksgiving to set the stage for it. a gradual return to prominence in 2022.
Joe Rao is an Instructor and Guest Lecturer at New York Hayden Planetarium… He writes about astronomy for Natural History Journalthen Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and further Facebook…