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Waxing moon near star Spica and planet Mars on July 5

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Tonight for July 5, 2014

Look for the moon as soon as darkness falls on July 5, 2014. That star shining by tonight’s moon is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. Plus, the slightly brighter star-like object near the moon and Spica is actually no star at all but the red planet Mars.

If you're up at early dawn,, and live in the Northern Hemisphere, you'll see the first signs of winter - the Pleiades cluster and the star Aldebaran, - near the dazzling planet Venus.

If you’re up at early dawn,, and live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll see the first signs of winter – the Pleiades cluster and the star Aldebaran, – near the dazzling planet Venus.

By the way, the ecliptic on the feature chart below represents a projection of the Earth’s orbital plane onto the great dome of stars. Because the moon revolves around the Earth on nearly the same plane that the Earth revolves around the sun, practiced sky watchers know the moon is always found on or near the ecliptic.

What is the ecliptic?

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As seen from the much of North America this evening, the moon is slightly past first quarter moon and will shine in between Mars and Spica at nightfall. But if you’re at just the right spot in Central America and South America, you might even be able watch the moon occult – cover over – the planet Mars tonight. Click here to find out more on tonight’s lunar occultation of Mars.

You need to convert the occultation times on the occultation page from Universal Time (UT) to local time. For instance, as viewed from La Paz, Bolivia, the moon occults Spica on July 6, from 2:36:37 to 3:34:34 Universal Time. However, people in Bolivia must subtract 4 hours from UT to convert to their local time. That means, as viewed from La Paz, the occultation takes place on July 5, from 10:36:37 p.m. to 11:34:34 p.m. Bolivia Time

In a different kind of occultation, telescopes at different locations observed the dwarf planet Eris occult (cover over) a faint star in November 2012, enabling astronomers to accurately measure Eris’ size. Click here for a larger view. Image credit: ESO

The moon travels eastward relative to the backdrop stars. So if you’re in the right place to witness tonight’s lunar occultation of Mars, this planet will disappear behind the nighttime side of the moon and reappear on the moon’s daylight side.

Remember, the night side of a waxing moon always points eastward – or in the same direction that the moon travels in front of the constellations of the Zodiac. At the same time tomorrow night, look for the moon to be much closer to Saturn – or to the east of where it shines tonight.