Tonight – April 24, 2016 – if you can stay up late, or wake up early, you can use the moon to locate the red planet Mars! The planet will be the brightest of three starlike objects in the moon’s vicinity from late evening April 24 until dawn April 25. The other two starlike objects are the planet Saturn and star Antares. If you miss this grouping of objects tonight, look tomorrow night.
Then keep your eye on Mars. We’re now less than a month away from the planet’s May 22 opposition, when Earth will pass between Mars and the sun.
Mars is often inconspicuous in our sky. It’s not a very large planet, after all, and it lacks the highly reflective clouds that make Venus so bright. But – about every two years, around the time we pass between Mars and the sun – the planet brightens dramatically and becomes a splendid sight in our sky. That’s happening now.
Watch for Mars in the coming weeks!
The waning gibbous moon and Mars won’t rise until around 10 to 11 p.m. April 24 at mid-northern latitudes.
Southern Hemisphere … Mars rises earlier for you! It’s up by early evening at temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere.
Half an hour or so after Mars and the moon rise, the planet Saturn and the red supergiant star Antares follow the moon and Mars over the eastern horizon. Once they’re all up, the moon, Mars, Saturn and Antares are out for rest of the night.
Watch for them to climb highest up for the night around 3 to 4 a.m. on April 25, and to move over into the western half of sky by the time dawn colors the sky.
Don’t like to stay up late or wake up early? There’s still a wonderful treat awaiting you at dusk and nightfall: the planet Jupiter. It’s the brightest starlike object in the sky after the sun goes down.
The other planet popping out at dusk is Mercury. It’s low in the western twilight at sunset, better viewed from the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern.
Bottom line: you’re willing to stay up late, or wake up early, use the moon to find the planets Mars and Saturn, plus the star Antares tonight!
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.