Mars and our moon will appear very close to each other tonight in a moon eclipse that can be seen by most of the United States.
Wednesday night marks the last full moon of the year, also known as the cold moon or the “long night moon.”
The moon will be at its fullest just after 11 p.m. EST. Around that time, most people in the country will be able to go outside and see the moon pass in front of Mars.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller explains Wednesday’s event will feature two celestial phenomenons. First, because this “cold” full moon will occur when Mars is in opposition in line with the Earth and Sun.
“Not only do we have this full cold moon, but it’s going to be passing right in front of Mars, so that’s a wonderful thing that’s called an occultation that will be happening at about 10 p.m. Eastern Time,” Thaller said.
According to NASA, the moon passes in front of planets several times a year. However, it’s normally just visible to a small part of Earth. Normally, such a large area of the world can’t view lunar occultation at once. For this event, most of North America, Europe and a part of North Africa will be able to see the event.
The show for North America will begin a little after sunset once the moon starts to move in front of Mars. Depending upon where you are, Mars will disappear behind the moon between 6:30 and 9 p.m. EST.
Viewers Need Clear Skies to Properly View the Mars-Moon Eclipse, or Lunar Occultation
Unfortunately, the Southeast and most of the East Coast will miss out on viewing the spectacle. According to NASA, viewers on the East Coast will see the moon waltz past Mars, but won’t see it pass in front.
For those in range of viewing the lunar occultation, having a clear sky remains key. Some areas in the West will have primarily clear viewing conditions Wednesday night. These include places like Phoenix and San Francisco.
In Minneapolis, Mars disappears behind the moon at 9:03 p.m. CST and will pop back out at 10:11 p.m. CST.
Los Angeles has the earliest view, with lunar occultation occurring at 6:31 p.m. PST.
“With the winter sky, we often get very clear conditions, and the moonlight comes on through,” Thaller said.
On Thursday, Mars will be in opposition to Earth. During opposition, Mars and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth. This marks when the two planets are closest together in their orbit.
However, when we say “close,” we don’t mean that close. Mars will still be 38.6 million miles away from Earth at its closest approach.
This will be the best view of the red planet in two years. Mars opposition last occurred in October 2020.