You won’t want to miss the beautiful celestial attraction on the evening of August 31, 2014 as the rather wide waxing crescent moon, and the planets Mars and Saturn all bunch up together in the southwest sky as darkness falls. Take a stroll with a loved one, or family and friends, to see all these worlds lighting up starry heavens first thing at nightfall. From central-west Africa tonight, the moon occults, or passes in front of, Saturn.
The lunar glare may somewhat obstruct the view of these planets tonight. So if you have binoculars, use them to get a better view Mars and Saturn. Mars exhibits a ruddy color whereas Saturn appears golden.
By the way, if you live in the right place in Africa, it’s possible that Saturn won’t be visible in your sky – at least for an hour or so. From certain spots in Africa, the moon will occult – cover over – Saturn, as the moon goes eastward through the Zodiac. At Yaounde, Cameroon, for instance, Saturn will disappear behind the dark side of the moon at 9:11 p.m. West Africa Time (WAT) and will reappear on the illuminated side of the moon at 10:15 p.m. WAT. Click here for more information on this lunar occultation of Saturn.
Although the threesome – the moon, Mars and Saturn – appear in nearly the same spot on the sky’s dome, they are not close together in space. This evening, on August 31, the moon is at or near its mean distance from Earth (384,400 kilometers or 238,855 miles). Another way of putting it, this lunar distance = 0.00257 of an astronomical unit (AU) – the Earth’s distance from the sun. In contrast, Mars lies at about 1.37 AU from Earth, and Saturn at 10.24 AU way.
Bottom line: The moon and two planets – Saturn and Mars – bunch up together in the southwest sky after sunset on August 31, 2014. The moon occults Saturn as seen from parts of Africa. The moon will be closer to the star Antares tomorrow, after sunset on September 1.