Here’s a gift for you from the cosmos. The waning moon passes close to the red planet Mars over the next few mornings. Look for the moon and planet after midnight on the mornings of December 25 and 26, 2013. The twosome will be visible ascending in the east during the wee hours between midnight – highest in the sky before dawn. In other words, you have to be a night owl or early bird to catch the moon and Mars right now. The good news is that they are visible from around the world.
Mars has conspicuous and inconspicuous years in our sky; it alternates between the two. 2013 was an inconspicuous year for Mars, so 2014 will be a good year in which to view the Red Planet. Start watching Mars now, and you can enjoy it for many months to come.
At present, Mars shines in front of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, near a well-known star in Virgo, called Porrima. If you can’t see this star with the unaided eye because of light pollution, try your luck with binoculars.
Mars and the star Porrima will be visible in the same binocular field of view from now until a week or so after New Year’s Day. At present, Mars resides to the west of Porrima, but by the end of 2013, Mars will have moved to the east of this star.
Then, as the New Year opens, watch for Mars as it continues to move eastward in front of Virgo day by day. Look for Mars to pair up with Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, by the end of January 2014.
So watch for Mars this week, as the moon acts as your guide to the planet. Mars will follow the moon into the sky after the midnight hour (on December 25) from most places worldwide. At mid-northern latitudes in North America, Mars rises about 45 minutes after the moon. To find out the precise rising times for the moon and Mars in your sky, check out the links on our almanac page.
If you’re more of an early bird than a night owl, by all means view the moon and Mars before dawn on December 25 and 26!
Bottom line: Use the moon to locate Mars in front of Virgo in the wee hours on December 25 and 26, 2013. The star near Mars between now and New Year’s is Porrima. After Mars leaves Porrima behind on the sky’s dome, it’ll move toward the Virgo star Spica throughout January 2014.
Sky chart of constellation Virgo