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Lunar Occultation of Mars
February 14, 2020
If you’re lucky enough to have clear skies in the morning, grab a coat, step outside, and look to the southeast. You’ll see a bright orange point of light just above the horizon. Mars.
Now, don’t be fooled by the star Antares, whose name actually means ‘rival to Ares’. Ares being the Greek god of war. Mars was of course the Roman god of war, so Antares can also mean ‘rival to mars,” which is exactly what it is right now. Antares is close to Mars in both color and brightness, but Antares is higher and further south in the morning sky. Another way to tell the difference is to look for twinkling. Because the light we see from Mars comes from the sun’s reflection, and a few other reasons, Mars doesn’t twinkle. Antares is a red supergiant less than 600 light years away, so it’s bright, but because it’s a single point of light in the night sky, it’s more susceptible to atmospheric interference, which is why it and other stars appear to twinkle.
Now, about this rare event… on Tuesday morning, February 18th, just after 7am Eastern, Mars will disappear behind the moon. An event known as a lunar occultation. You can see this up close with a telescope, but clear skies are a must, and that’s not looking very promising right now. But if the forecast changes and Tuesday morning ends up looking a little nicer, do yourself a favor and take advantage. You’ll be able to watch in real time as the crescent moon slips in front of the red planet.