On the night of April 14-15, the night of the first of four total lunar eclipses in the coming tetrad, you’ll find a very bright red “star” near the moon. It’s really not a star at all, but the red planet Mars. Why is Mars near the moon on the night of the lunar eclipse? The answer is simple. On April 8, Earth in its smaller orbit passed generally between Mars and the sun. Our motion in orbit has placed Mars opposite the sun from our point of view, visible all night while the sun is below our feet. It’s what astronomers call an opposition of Mars. Meanwhile, a full moon is also, always, opposite the sun. It must be so, in order to appear full from Earth. An outer planet is always near the full moon during the month it reaches opposition. A total eclipse always happens at full moon. Voila! Mars is near the moon on eclipse night. Hopefully, the illustrations below will help you visualize it. Clear skies, everyone!
Bottom line: The red planet Mars is near the moon on eclipse night, April 14-15, 2014. This post explains why.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.