“Magical” and rare celestial events will occur tonight as the moon eclipses Mars. Here’s how to watch.
Wednesday will be a “magical” night in the world of stargazing, as four celestial events take place in the sky.
The day ends with the earliest sunset of the year, the opposition of Mars, and a rare event where December’s full moon, known as the “cold moon,” will temporarily eclipse Mars.
According to NASA, the sun sets just before 4:45 p.m. EST on Wednesday and twilight ends at 5:49 p.m. EST. While it will bring early darkness, it will set the stage for a magnificent night of stargazing. Along with the full moon, viewers can observe multiple planets near its glow: Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, the latter of which is directly opposite the sun, an event known as Mars opposition.
Wednesday’s full moon is known as the cold moon because of the “long, cold nights” that winter brings, according to NASA, citing the Maine Farmers’ Almanac. It is also known as the Frost Moon and Winter Moon in the almanac, as well as the Yule Moon and Oak Moon in Europe.
But the main event is not just the moon itself. As Mars makes its closest and brightest appearance of the year, NASA said the moon will gradually move closer to the red planet. In some regions of the world, the moon appears to eclipse Mars from view, an event known as a moon eclipse.
“December 7 brings one of those magical moments when the sky changes dramatically before your very eyes,” NASA says in a skywatching highlight video.
Parts of North America, Europe and North Africa will be able to see the eclipse, NASA said, while those on the southeastern and eastern coasts of the US will see the moon “just graze past Mars.”
A view of the occultation should take about an hour for most people. Those in Minneapolis will see Mars vanish around 9:03 p.m. CST and reappear around 10:11 p.m., NASA said, while those in Los Angeles will be able to observe the phenomenon from about 6:31 p.m. PST to 7:31 p.m. the moon will be at its peak at 11:08 PM EST.
NASA said the event will be a “relatively rare opportunity to see a bright planet obscured by the moon.”
“The moon passes in front of planets in the night sky several times a year. In fact, it generally obscures Mars itself at least a few times a year,” NASA said. “But each occultation is visible from only a small portion of the Earth’s surface, so it’s not very common for a particular spot on Earth to see them often.”
For those who are outside of regions where it is possible to view the occultation, or who don’t have clear skies during the celestial events, live streams are available to watch it happen in real time. Here’s how to watch (all times below are EST):
- The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 will have an online observation from 11 p.m
- The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory is co-hosting with Flagstaff, Arizona’s Lowell Observatory live stream starting at 9 p.m
- Southern California Griffith Observatory will host a live stream starting at 9pm
- Carnegie Astronomy live stream will start at 9:15 p.m
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