The long-awaited opposition of Mars on 8 December is an effective way to place the icing on prime of one other nice observing 12 months. Contemplating its proximity to Earth, a mean distance of 225 million kilometres, Mars showing at or near its greatest is a considerably elusive occasion. The purple planet involves an opposition-best (when it lies immediately reverse the Solar within the sky) on alternate years solely (its imply synodic interval is 780 days), the final opposition occurring on 13 October 2020. Due to this fact, any opposition of Mars is to be cherished.
Nevertheless, this time round there’s a tasty cherry on prime of the icing within the type of an occultation of Mars by the complete Moon on the morning of 8 December, an occasion to not be missed.
Mars is at opposition the night time of seven/8 December (at 05:36 UT), when it shines brilliantly at magnitude –1.9, solely half a magnitude fainter than Jupiter, and affords telescopic observers a disc spanning a really wholesome 17 arcseconds. Driving excessive among the many stars of Taurus, the Bull there’s no points with poor altitude in contrast to on the 2020 opposition, because the purple planet lies 20° larger within the night time sky. Mars is above 30° in altitude from about 7.30pm to 5am GMT, peaking at an elevation of round 60° when it crosses the southern meridian at midnight or so.
A small telescope to resolve Mars’ main darkish markings, and proprietor’s of medium- to large-aperture telescopes and high-resolution imaging set-ups to collect scientifically-valuable knowledge. Mars’ most well-known function, the ‘V’ formed Syrtis Main, lastly rotates into view at Mars’ following limb from round 3am GMT on opposition night time. Nevertheless, you’d higher be fast when observing or imaging it as right here comes the Moon!
Mars hidden by the Moon!
An occultation of a planet by the Moon that’s seen throughout the entire of the UK will not be a standard occasion and is one to tug out all of the stops to attempt to observe it.
At about 7pm GMT on 7/8 December, Mars and the Moon are nicely up within the east and lie 4.2° aside, offering a superb sight with the bare eye and thru a pair of 10 x 50 binoculars. Because the night wears on, examine intermittently on their progress when you’re observing or imaging Mars and also you’ll see the Moon closing in on Mars. By 3am Moon has closed inside a level or so of the purple planet, the pair now mendacity half approach up the western sky.
Scotland can be first to witness the occultation; from Edinburgh, the Moon begins to maneuver over Mars at about 4.52am GMT, with the occasion starting at about 5am GMT for observers in London. Mars and the Moon are round 30 and 27 levels up from Edinburgh and London, respectively. As with all occultation occasions, make sure to be prepared to look at at the least a couple of minutes earlier than.
It’s a disgrace the Moon is at full part (4.08am GMT) as observers must deal with its highly effective glare, however naked-eye observers ought to have the ability to get a superb view by hiding the Moon together with your hand. Not like when a star winks out instantaneously, Mars, with its 17.1” disc, takes its time. Excessive-power telescopic views can be particularly spectacular, as will probably be fascinating to look at whereas Mars takes about 35 seconds or so to utterly disappear behind the Moon.
Mars is accompanied by star, magnitude +9.6 HIP 23032, which lies about half a level to the south-west and is occulted seconds earlier than Mars.
Mars is hidden from view for an hour or so, reappearing at about 5.53am and shortly earlier than 6am from Edinburgh and London, respectively.