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How you can watch Mars disappear behind the full moon tonight

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If you happen to have clear skies on Wednesday night, you’ll be able to catch a planet disappearing behind the moon.

The event occurs at a special time for Mars. On Wednesday night, Mars will be directly opposite the sun’s position in the sky, rising as the sun sets and setting as the sun rises. This is called an opposition and is when Mars is at its brightest in the night sky.

“Having the moon hide a bright planet is rare,” said Alan Dyer, an amateur astronomer and accomplished astrophotographer who will watch the event from his home near Strathmore, Alta.

“Having it do so on the very night a planet is at its brightest, as Mars now is, is very unusual. And with the objects so well-placed high in our sky. Fabulous!”

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When a planet or a star disappears behind another object, it’s called an occultation. The next time this happens between the moon and Mars will be in January 2025, although it will be two days before opposition.

When and where to look

Canada is in a prime location for the event.

Elaina Hyde, director of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory at York University’s department of physics and astronomy in Toronto, is also looking forward to Wednesday night’s occultation.

“Tonight, the occultation of Mars by our moon requires a ‘just right’ alignment,” she said. “In fact, not everyone on Earth will even be able to see this one.”

If you want to watch Mars blink out behind the moon, you just need clear skies. However, binoculars will provide a better view (though, be warned: a full moon is quite bright with binoculars or a telescope).

Because the occultation is between the moon, which is super bright, and Mars, which is at its brightest, they’re easy to find.

All you have to do is look east to find the moon. Mars will appear at the left or lower left, depending on your location.

People across North America in the shaded areas on the map will enjoy the the sight of the moon eclipsing Mars on Wednesday night. (Gregg Dinderman/Sky & Telescope)

You can gradually watch the event unfold right after sunset, when the pair will be farther apart. Over the next few hours, the pair will gradually appear to get closer and closer. The moon will seem to move to the left as they rise in the sky, eventually overtaking Mars.

How long Mars will stay eclipsed behind the moon depends on your location: it could be several minutes or about an hour. This is because it depends on how much of the moon’s disc Mars will need to traverse.

For example, in Toronto, Mars will only cross a small fraction of the moon’s lower disc, beginning at 10:29 p.m. ET and re-emerging roughly 45 minutes later. In Edmonton, it will take more than an hour for the entire event.

Here are the approximate times when Mars will disappear behind the moon. All times are local:

  • Vancouver: 6:55 p.m.
  • Edmonton: 8:04 p.m.
  • Calgary: 7:59 p.m.
  • Regina: 9:01 p.m.
  • Saskatoon: 9:03 p.m.
  • Winnipeg: 9:05 p.m.
  • Toronto: 10:29 p.m.
  • Ottawa: 10:36 p.m.
  • Montreal: 10:40 p.m.
  • Iqaluit: 9:50 p.m.
  • Whitehorse: 8:25 p.m.
  • Yellowknife: 8:23 p.m.

Thursday:

  • Halifax: 12:15 a.m.
  • Charlottetown: 12:07 a.m.
  • Moncton: 12:04 a.m.
  • St. John’s: 12:25 a.m.

You can find more locations here.

Remember, the event occurs all night, so you can take a peek outside once in a while leading up to the occultation and afterwards as it progresses.

You may also notice a bright red star not too far away from the moon and Mars, but to the right. That’s Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus.

This red giant lies near one of the most beautiful open star clusters in the northern sky, Hyades. In a few days’ time, once the moon moves away from that area of the sky, try using a pair of binoculars to check out the cluster.

Also, since you’re outside on Wednesday night, why not take a peak to the southwest where Jupiter will be quite apparent as the brightest object in the sky (aside from the moon). A pair of binoculars will also reveal four of its brightest moons, Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.

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An asteroid will whip by Earth tomorrow in one of closest approaches ever recorded

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An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.

NASA insists it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth.

The U.S. space agency said Wednesday that this newly discovered asteroid will zoom 3,600 kilometres above the southern tip of South America. That’s 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead.

The closest approach will occur at 7:27 p.m. ET.

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Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites.

NASA’s impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“But despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement.

“In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

Asteroid spotted by amateur astronomer in Crimea

Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be 3.5 to 8.5 metres across.

It was first spotted by Gennady Borisov, the same amateur astronomer in Crimea who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019.

Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid’s orbit.

The asteroid’s path will be drastically altered by Earth’s gravity once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, it will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.

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Nuclear-powered spaceships? U.S. plans for 2027

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WASHINGTON –

The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.

NASA will partner with the U.S. military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

The U.S. space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.

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NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.

That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.

“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.

The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the U.S. Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.

DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.

The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is US$110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.

Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio

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The green comet ZTF returns to the solar system 50,000 years later… and it will be visible from Earth

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For astronomy enthusiasts, February 1 is marked in red on their calendars. The reason: it is not every day that there is a chance to see a green comet.

In fact, it is the first time in 50,000 years that C/2022 ZTF will return to the solar system. And it will be early next month when it will reach its closest position to Earth.

Specifically, the green comet ZTF will pass 42 million light years from our planet. Experts are not 100 percent sure whether it will be visible from the surface without the use of any instrument. However, if we have specific astronomy binoculars or telescopes, we will be able to see it without any problem.

As usually happens in these cases, the best places to observe the comet, this one or any other, are places with little artificial light. That is to say, we should move away from urban centres and it is preferable to do so in the hours before dawn.

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Un cometa brillante, visto desde California.Getty

Why is comet ZTF green?

Comet ZTF has a brightness and a colour that, although not unique, is clearly distinctive. Its hue is due to the fact that it is composed, among other materials, of diatomic carbon.

When it comes into contact with sunlight, the decomposition of this element causes the gas to acquire this spectacular colour.

Comet ZTF was discovered in March 2022

Un telescopio apunta al cielo.
Un telescopio apunta al cielo.Getty

Frank Masci and Bryce Bolin of the Palomar Observatory in California were responsible for spotting the striking comet ZTF in the sky. It is so named because its discovery is part of the Zwicky Transient Facility surveillance programme, which uses the powerful Schmidt telescope at the facility.

Initially, the scientists responsible for the discovery thought it was an asteroid, but they quickly realised that this was not the case. Despite the striking colour of this comet, experts advise keeping expectations low. In any case, it is an event that has aroused great interest in the community.

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