As darkness falls on June 7, 2014, look for the waxing gibbous moon near a reddish “star.” It’s not a star, but instead the red planet Mars. The moon and Mars both reside in front of the constellation Virgo, not far from Spica, a true star, and the brightest one in the constellation Virgo. You’ll have plenty of time to catch the evening couple – the moon and Mars – as twosome will be out until the wee hours after midnight. What’s more, if you keep watching the moon this weekend, you can identify another planet, Saturn.
Want to look ahead? The moon will be closest to the star Spica on June 8.
Summer 2014 will be a grand time to watch both Mars and Saturn. So identify them now, and enjoy them in the months to come!
Mars was brightest this year in April, when we passed between the red planet and the sun. Mars is one world in Earth’s sky whose brightness changes dramatically. In Mars’ case, the cycle is about two years, as Earth and Mars both orbit the sun. Mars lodges about seven times farther away at its farthest than at its closest to Earth. Therefore, Mars’ apparent diameter shrinks to 1/7th of its size of when Mars was at its closest.
Yet, that 1/7th-figure doesn’t tell the whole story. At its farthest, Mars disk size is actually 1/49th as great because you have to square the change in apparent diameter to find out how much its disk has shrunk (1/7 x 1/7 = 1/49).
So maybe you can see that this summer is good viewing for Mars!
A year from now – in June, 2015 – Mars will pass behind the sun as seen from Earth, to disappear in the glare of the sun. In other words, Earth will have traveled so far ahead of Mars in our smaller, faster orbit that we’ll turn the corner ahead of Mars in orbit, leaving Mars behind the sun’s glare.
Right now – June 2014 – presents a grand time to watch Mars, so enjoy the red planet before it fades into oblivion in 2015.
Bottom line: Watch the moon this weekend! It’s near Mars Saturday night, June 7, and, in the nights after that, can help you identify another planet, Saturn.