DR. SKY BLOG

Red letter days ahead in December as Mars moves closer to Earth

Nov 30, 2022, 2:00 PM
(NASA Photo)...
(NASA Photo)
(NASA Photo)

Over the past six months, Mars, the red god of war has been slowly creeping into our skies.

Now that moment in time has occurred, as Mars will be closest to the Earth on Thursday at a distance of 50,611,228 miles. This may seem like a long way off, but in the terms of the universe, this is a close apparition of Mars.

So, during the month of December expect to hear a lot about Mars and how best to view it, learn about it and share that experience during this holiday season.

The basic details first:

• Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and is usually around 144,000,000 miles away from it.

• A day on Mars is some 37 minutes longer than one on Earth.

• 200 pounds on Earth equals 76 pounds on Mars.

• Mars has a tiny amount of oxygen and a lot of carbon dioxide.

• The weather on Mars is usually very cold in the day part and bitter cold at night.

• Mars has a mountain around 80,000 feet high. The planet is only 4,220 miles in diameter.

We could go on forever, but here’s a summary.

Mars is the next major destination for mankind and there are many plans in the works for that to become a reality.

Here are some of the plans for such a mission.

Now, we look at the current apparition of Mars and how we can best view the planet and take advantage of this close encounter.

This is one of the best depictions of the entire Mars encounter with Earth.

I have been observing Mars for well over 40 years and have some basic suggestions to help you get the most out of this event.

Mars is best viewed in a telescope of at least 6 inches in diameter for a reflector type and 4 inches or larger in the refracting-type telescope.

Magnification is the issue when looking at Mars. A telescope magnification of around 250X the human eye is a starting point. Mars will have a small diameter of 17.2 seconds of arc when at its closest in early December. That is still a small object to magnify!

A general rule of thumb for maximum magnification is 50 times magnification for each inch of aperture, or diameter of the main mirror or refractor lens.

What will you see depends on how steady the atmosphere is; Mars will be high in the sky near midnight in the constellation of Taurus the Bull.

To help you locate the features on Mars when you are viewing, here is a guide to show what region of Mars is visible when you are viewing.

Mars will remain a bright planet in our skies for a few more months, but there is a special event that you need to look at on the evening of Dec. 7 across much of the nation.

This is a rare occultation of Mars by the full cold moon.

The fine details and timing of this event can be found at this site and also here.

Arizona has a long history of Mars observation, with Percival Lowell leading the way in the early part of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Here is some of that amazing history.

Enjoy this close approach of Mars, as the next closest approach will not occur till 2035!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

 To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

 Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.

 Podcasts are available here.

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Red letter days ahead in December as Mars moves closer to Earth