If you’ve gotten used to having something to look at up in space during weekends this summer, don’t worry—there’s something to see tonight. Last weekend we were treated to NASA’s live coverage of the SpaceX crew returning to Earth. This weekend, we have to opportunity to see Mars and the moon align and rise together. Here’s what you need to know.
How to watch the moon and Mars align
As Forbes senior science contributor Jamie Carter explains, Mars is currently in the process of moving towards opposition in October. Opposition is the point during the planet’s orbit when it comes closest to Earth, meaning that it’s more visible than any other time of the year. But we don’t have to wait until October to get a decent look at the Red Planet: Carter says that it’s already getting “visibly bigger and brighter with every passing night.”
This also means that Mars is rising earlier each evening, and this weekend it will be in the sky before midnight, alongside a 65% illuminated waning gibbous moon. (That just means that 65% of the moon will be visible, compared with 100% during a full moon.) This is known as a “conjunction”—an event when two celestial bodies appear to pass close to one another.
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Tonight’s conjunction will be most visible in North America around 4 a.m. EST (which yes, is technically Sunday morning). But if that’s after your bedtime, you can also try to catch a glimpse of the alignment at moonrise. First, figure out exactly what time moonrise is happening where you live, using this moon calculator. As an example, tonight’s moonrise in New York City will be at 10:50 p.m. If you look just north of the moon, you may be able to Mars at this time too. It’ll be the one brighter than any of the stars.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
An asteroid the size of a school bus is headed our way, but NASA says the space rock will zoom safely past Earth on Thursday.
The newly discovered asteroid will come within 13,000 miles (22,000 kilometres) of Earth, well below many of the communications satellites orbiting the planet, scientists said this week. The closest approach will occur Thursday morning over the southeastern Pacific Ocean.
Once it’s gone, the asteroid won’t be back to Earth’s neighbourhood until 2041.
Scientists estimate the asteroid is between 15 feet and 30 feet (4.5 metres to 9 metres). By asteroid standards, that’s considered puny. Asteroids of this size hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up once every year or two, said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There could be as many as 100 million of these little asteroids out there.
The real threat are considerably bigger asteroids. The good news is that these are easier to spot much sooner than just a few days out.
Asteroid 2020 SW, as it is known, was discovered last Friday by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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