The planet Mars has more or less parked itself in the evening sky right now. It’s quite low in the southwest as night falls, and sets a couple of hours after sunset. Tonight, it’s not far to the upper left of the crescent Moon, so it’s a little easier to pick out than on most evenings. It looks like a modestly bright orange star.
Mars is about two-thirds of the way around the Sun as seen from Earth — a little less than 200 million miles away. Over the next few months, it’ll inch farther from Earth, eventually passing behind the Sun next April.
Thanks to the relative motions of the two planets, and the time of year here on Earth, Mars won’t appear to move too much in the evening sky, though. It’ll creep to the right along the horizon, eventually appearing almost due west instead of southwest. But from night to night, its altitude above the horizon will remain almost the same at the same hour. And its brightness won’t change much, either.
The background behind Mars will change substantially, though, as the planet continues its usual eastward motion against the background of stars. Tonight, it’s near the “spout” of teapot-shaped Sagittarius. By the first of the year, it’ll be one constellation over, in Capricornus. And by the time it disappears in the Sun’s glare around the end of February, it’ll be at the eastern edge of Aquarius.
So keep an eye on Mars as it lurks in the fading glow of twilight over the next few months.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
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