As seen as the Moon occludes Mars in the “lunar occultation” over Washington

WASHINGTON — A “lunar eclipse” — a rare astronomical event in which the moon passes in front of a planet and obliterates it from view — will occur early Wednesday evening. However, it can prove difficult to take a look in western Washington.

The National Weather Service expects clouds and occasional showers on Wednesday before the next wet weather pattern arrives later in the evening. AccuWeather is forecasting almost 100 percent cloud cover by nightfall, but just in case the clouds clear, here’s what you need to know.

December’s cold Full Moon will cover Mars for about an hour during the occultation, which will be visible across the country except for the south-east and east coasts, where it will closely pass the red planet. The spectacle begins about an hour after sunset in North America, where it takes place during prime time. Take a look near the constellation of Taurus.

Here are the times the moon will be hidden in a handful of US cities, according to a guide compiled by Sky & Telescope:

  • Los Angeles, California: 6:30pm PST-7:30pm PST
  • Seattle, Wash.: 6:52 p.m. PST-7:51 p.m. PST
  • Phoenix, Arizona: 7:32 p.m. MST-8:31 p.m. MST
  • Denver, Colo.: 7:45 p.m. MST-8:48 p.m. MST
  • St. Louis, Missouri: 9:06 p.m. CST-9:52 p.m. CST
  • Chicago, Illinois: 9:11 p.m. CST-10:05 p.m. CST

Cities outside the occult zone will still be able to see Mars as it sweeps past the moon, according to Sky & Telescope.

  • New Orleans, Louisiana: 9:11 p.m. CST
  • Huntsville, Alabama: 21:23 CST
  • Miami, Fla.: 10:16 p.m. EST
  • Atlanta, Georgia: 10:26 p.m. EST
  • Washington, DC: 10:46 p.m. EST
  • New York, NY: 10:56 p.m. EST
  • Boston, Mass.: 11:01 p.m. EST

Mars has been spectacular for the past few weeks as it approaches bright opposition with the Sun on Thursday, when it will look larger, brighter and redder than usual.

All planets orbit the Sun, but the Red Planet is small compared to Earth, taking about twice as long as our planet to travel around the Sun. Because of this, Mars and Earth are sometimes very far apart in their orbits, and Mars appears as a very bright star. But if they catch up, like this year, Mars will shine at an apparent magnitude of about -1.9 through early December.

“During opposition, Mars and the Sun are on directly opposite sides of the Earth,” NASA explains. “From our perspective of our spinning world, Mars rises in the east as the sun sets in the west. Then, after staying in the sky all night, Mars sets in the west as the sun rises in the east. Since Mars and the Sun appear on opposite sides of the sky, we say that Mars is in “opposition.” ”

Mars is beginning to lose some of its brilliance, dimming to an apparent magnitude of around -1.4 by the end of the month.

Up to five planets will be visible to the naked eye later this month. Jupiter shines brightly in the south in the evening sky, and yellowish Saturn stands lower and to the west of the larger planet.

Later in the month, mercury will be visible very low in the western sky for about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset; and superbright Venus and bright Mercury are close together at dusk.

At Christmas, the four planets appear in the sky near the waxing crescent moon. Mercury appears as a faint speck in the southwestern sky, and much brighter Venus appears closer to the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn will both also be visible on the moon’s opposite side, while Mars will be closer to the northeast part of the sky in the evening.

There are plenty of other reasons to look up to the skies in December, including hoping to see the year’s most anticipated meteor shower, the Geminids, as they near their peak on December 13-14. The Geminid meteor shower produces up to 120 colorful meteors per hour late into the evening.

Later in the month, the Ursid meteor shower peaks on December 21-22 and runs through December 24, around the same time that the fireball-producing quadrantids begin flying. The unpredictable Quadrantids, peaking on January 4th, have the potential to become the strongest meteor shower of the year, but poor weather conditions often turn off all but the most staunch sky-watchers.


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