September 13, 2022: Contrary to Internet memes, Mars will not appear as large as the moon when the Red Planet is closest to Earth. Overnight a planet display with Mars, the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn arches across the sky.
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by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:29 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:03 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
About every two years, Earth catches Mars and passes between it and the sun. The planet is closest to Earth and very bright. On this cycle, the Internet memes will begin to circulate images showing that Mars will appear the same size as the moon. While Mars is bright, it still looks like a star to the unaided eye, even when closest at the end of November with a distance of 51 million miles, the Red Planet still looks like a star.
If the moon were moved to this Martian closest approach distance, it would not be visible to the unaided eye. It would be too dim. There are two calculations to this answer. If the moon retained its same brightness, it would be very bright at Mars’ closest. Being over 200 times farther away than its current distance it is considerably dimmer from less sunlight reaching its surface to reflect, so it would be over 40,000 times dimmer and barely visible to the human eye in a dark location without outdoor lighting.
Here’s a photo of Mars and the moon during 2020 to give an example of Mars and the moon when the Red Planet is close to Earth.
Overnight, a wonder display occurs with Mars, the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn as the planet parade shifts westward toward the early evening sky.
It’s early! At five hours before sunrise (1:30 a.m. CDT in Chicago), the bright moon, 90% illuminated, is over halfway up in the southeast. Jupiter is slightly lower, above the southern horizon, over 20° to the lower right of the lunar orb.
The Jovian Giant is retrograding in Pisces, approaching its opposition on the 26th. After the moon, it is the brightest star in the sky this morning.
For sky watchers with telescopes, the planet’s Great Red Spot is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere at 4:10 a.m. CDT, when the planet is lower in the west-southwest.
In the overnight display, Saturn is about one-fourth of the way up in the sky in the southwest. It sets about 2.5 hours before sunrise. The planet is retrograding in Capricornus. It passed opposition with the sun last month.
Farther eastward, Mars, about one-third of the way up in the east, is to the upper left of Aldebaran and lower left of the Pleiades star cluster.
Tomorrow, the moon skips farther eastward toward Mars. Check out this string of planets, accented by the moon during the next several mornings.
By the time morning twilight begins, Saturn is below the western horizon. Venus appears low in the east-northeast about 40 minutes before sunup. At this time, Mars is a challenge to see, but Jupiter can be found in the west-southwest, with the moon higher in the sky.
The morning extravaganza of the moon and planets begins in the evening sky, with Saturn leading the way. One hour after sunset, it is low in the southeast, while Jupiter is above the eastern horizon.
This evening the moon rises nearly two hours after sunset, followed by Mars, two hours later.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.
- 2023, October 16: Venus in Starry ConjunctionOctober 16, 2023: Venus passes a star in Leo before sunrise. A crescent moon is low in the western sky during evening twilight.