Morning Mars

StarDate: June 15, 2009

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Mars has been conspicuously inconspicuous for months. It disappeared from the evening sky last fall, and it's been lurking quite low in the morning sky throughout the spring. But it's finally starting to show off a bit. And this is a good week to look for it because it has a showy companion: Venus, the "morning star." Mars looks like a fairly bright orange star a little to the upper left of Venus at first light.

Mars has been out of sight because it passed "behind" the Sun late last year. For months, it appeared so close to the Sun that it was overpowered by the glare.

Even as it pulled away from the Sun, though, it didn't put on much of a show. In the wee hours of the morning, Mars's path across the sky was tilted at a sharp angle. So as Mars rose, it scooted along the horizon instead of popping up into the sky. As a result, it remained quite low in the sky and immersed in the morning twilight.

Now, though, its path is tilting a little farther away from the horizon. And Mars itself is pulling farther away from the Sun, so it's in better view.

Over the next six months, Mars will put on a much better show. It'll move farther away from the Sun in our sky, and it'll grow brighter. By the end of the year, it'll shine about 10 times brighter than it does now, and it'll be in view all night long.

Again, look for Mars near brilliant Venus at first light. The Moon will swing past them later in the week.

More about Mars tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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