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Mars at opposition will meet up with the full moon next week (Dec. 7). Here’s how to see it

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Every once in a while, something will appear in the sky that will attract the attention of even those who normally don’t bother looking up.

It’s likely to be that way in the evening hours of Wednesday (Dec. 7) when the full moon will appear in very close proximity to the now-brilliant planet Mars. In fact, the moon will turn full at 11:08 p.m. EST (0408 GMT on Dec. 8) followed by Mars arriving at opposition to the sun just 87 minutes later. This will result in an almost perfect alignment in space of the sun, Earth, moon and Mars.

People, who are unaware or have no advance notice, will almost certainly wonder, as they cast a casual glance toward our nearest neighbor in space on this first Wednesday in December, just what is that “bright orange-yellow light”? Sometimes, such occasions bring with them a sudden rash of phone calls to radio and television stations, local planetariums, weather offices and police precincts. Not a few of these calls excitedly inquire about “the mysterious UFO” that’s closely hovering in the vicinity of our natural satellite!

If you don’t live in any of the locations listed below that will provide a good chance to see the event in person, you’re in luck: The Virtual Telescope Project will be hosting a livestream of Mars at opposition (opens in new tab) beginning at 11:00 p.m. EST on Dec. 7 (0400 GMT on Dec. 8).

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Related: December full moon 2022: The Cold Moon occults Mars

Joe Rao is a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium.

 Where to see the moon eclipse Mars

As a bonus, those who are located north and west of a line running roughly from Piedras Negras, Mexico to Louisville, Kentucky to Seabrook, New Hampshire will see the moon occult Mars. Refer to the US map. Those positioned south and east of this line, however, will see the moon miss the planet entirely, barely passing just above it (called an appulse).

But for an observer fortuitously positioned exactly on, or immediately adjacent to that line — it’s actually a narrow path about 21 miles (34 km) wide — the lower limb of the moon will appear to literally graze Mars as it passes by.

For those fortuitously situated along the northern edge of the path, the planet’s dazzling topaz disk may appear to disappear completely, then reappear intermittently in lunar valleys. In contrast, along the southern edge of the path, Mars’ northern edge will only briefly touch the limb of the moon.

Among towns and cities located within the path are Morgantown, WV; Scranton, PA; Hudson, NY; Northampton, MA; Lowell, MA and Seabrook, NH. Refer to the Mars occultation graze path maps.

Unlike a star which is a pinpoint of light and would disappear and reappear in an instant, Mars appears as a small disk in telescopes; owing to its relatively large angular size (17.2 arc seconds in diameter), the occultation will occur at a rather “leisurely” pace. So the disappearance of Mars behind the moon’s bright limb for most places, will take anywhere from about 40 seconds to almost a minute (or even longer where the moon’s limb approaches it at a slant).

From Austin, for instance, the moon’s slow eastward drift will take more than two minutes to completely cover, and later uncover the planet’s disk — and even longer for those to the south and closer in to the northern limit of the graze path, where the moon’s limb will approach at even more of a slant.

The planet’s reappearance will also be gradual. The actual term is called an occultation (Latin for “hiding”). One might even refer to this upcoming event as an eclipse of the planet Mars. Moving to the east against the background stars at its own apparent diameter each hour, the moon will appear to approach Mars from the west (right) and ultimately pass in front of it, and then shortly thereafter, uncover it, and leaving it behind as the moon continues to move to the east.

An illustration of the full Cold Moon as it will appear on Dec. 7, with Mars visible behind it. (Image credit: Starry Night Education)

Plainly visible with just your eyes

An opportunity to see the moon occult a bright planet at night does not happen too often; for Mars for a specific location on Earth it happens (on average) once about every 14 years. So, if you are fortunate to live in the occultation zone and the weather gods cooperate, this upcoming event is one that really should not be missed.

Since Mars will be at opposition when it has its lunar rendezvous, it will be shining at its very brightest for this current apparition. Normally, even a bright star can be quite difficult to see when in such close proximity to the dazzling brilliance of a full moon. Yet, because Mars is as bright as it is (magnitude -1.9; nearly twice as bright as Sirius, the brightest star), this spectacular vanishing act can be watched with just your unaided eye or binoculars, although the very best views will certainly be afforded with a telescope.

Table 1 provides the specific details for 27 selected cities in the United States and Canada. For times with an asterisk (*), the calendar date is Dec. 8.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Table 1: Local viewing circumstances for the occultation of mars, Dec. 7-8, 2022
Location Time zone Mars disappears Mars reappears
Juneau AKST 6:19 p.m. 6:55 p.m.
Los Angeles PST 6:30 p.m. 7:30 p.m.
San Francisco PST 6:34 p.m. 7:35 p.m.
Seattle PST 6:51 p.m. 7:50 p.m.
Vancouver PST 6:55 p.m. 7:52 p.m.
Tucson MST 7:32 p.m. 8:27 p.m.
Las Vegas MST 7:34 p.m. 8:35 p.m.
Salt Lake City MST 7:41 p.m. 8:46 p.m.
Denver MST 7:44 p.m. 8:48 p.m.
Helena MST 7:51 p.m. 8:56 p.m.
Edmonton MST 8:04 p.m. 9:06 p.m.
Yellowknife MST 8:23 p.m. 9:16 p.m.
Whitehorse MST 8:25 p.m. 8:57 p.m.
Tulsa CST 8:54 p.m. 9:41 p.m.
Kansas City CST 8:56 p.m. 9:52 p.m.
Austin CST 8:57 p.m. 9:12 p.m.
Saskatoon CST 9:03 p.m. 10:10 p.m.
Winnipeg CST 9:05 p.m. 10:16 p.m.
Chicago CST 9:10 p.m. 10:04 a.m.
Memphis CST 9:14 p.m. 9:29 p.m.
Churchill CST 9:22 p.m. 10:31 p.m.
Louisville EST 10:21 p.m. 10:47 p.m.
Toronto EST 10:29 p.m. 11:17 p.m.
Montreal EST 10:40 p.m. 11:29 p.m.
Quebec City EST 10:45 p.m. 11:36 p.m.
Halifax AST 12:15 a.m.* 12:33 a.m.*
Gander NST 12:47 a.m.* 1:37 a.m.*

The above table gives civil times of Mars’ disappearance and reappearance from behind the moon. Both the disappearance and reappearance of the planet, can last anywhere from 40 seconds to over two minutes, depending on whether Mars passes centrally behind the moon (and is covered for an hour or more) or near its lower edge at a slant (and is covered for less than a half hour). Disappearance and reappearance times are for Mars’ center.

Table was adapted from data provided by the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) (opens in new tab).

Mars was at its closest proximity to Earth on Dec. 1 at a distance of 50.61 million miles, 81.446 million km, or 4.5 light-minutes. (Image credit: Starry Night Software)

Don’t miss this near miss!

For the rest of North America, this will be an exceedingly close approach of the moon to Mars (called an appulse). The moon, moving around the Earth in an easterly direction at roughly its own diameter each hour will seem to creep slowly toward and ultimately pass just above the ochre planet. Even though the heavily populated Southeast and Eastern United States will miss out on an occultation, Mars will almost command people to look at it, as it slowly appears to glide below the moon.

For places like Huntsville, Knoxville, Philadelphia and New York, Mars will come to within just 1 arc minute of the moon’s limb; they’ll almost seem to touch each other. To the naked eye, Mars will look like an amber jewel on the bottom edge of the moon. From Boston the gap between Mars and the moon’s limb is even smaller: just 0.6 arc minute, roughly equal to the apparent width of two Mars diameters!

After closest approach, the moon will move slowly away from Mars through the balance of the overnight hours of Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.

Table 2 provides the specific details for 15 selected cities in the continental U.S., Puerto Rico and Bermuda.  For times with an asterisk (*), the calendar date is Dec. 8.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Table 2: Local viewing circumstances for the appulse of the moon and mars, Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, 2022
Location Time zone Closest approach Separation
New Orleans EST 9:11 p.m. 3 arc min.
Huntsville EST 9:23 p.m. 1 arc min.
Miami EST 10:16 p.m. 11 arc min.
Jacksonville EST 10:23 p.m. 7 arc min.
Atlanta EST 10:26 p.m. 3 arc min.
Columbia EST 10:31 p.m. 4 arc min.
Knoxville EST 10:31 p.m. 1 arc min.
Charlotte EST 10:36 p.m. 3 arc min.
Norfolk EST 10:46 p.m. 4 arc min.
Washington EST 10:46 p.m. 2 arc min.
Philadelphia EST 10:51 p.m. 1 arc min.
New York EST 10:56 p.m. 1 arc min.
Boston EST 11:01 p.m. 0.6 arc min.
San Juan AST 11:51 p.m. 23 arc min.
Hamilton AST 12:06 a.m.* 11 arc min.

The above table gives civil times (all a.m.) of Mars’s closest approach to the edge of the moon’s lower limb. Separation between Mars and the moon’s lower edge is given in terms of minutes of arc (the apparent width of the moon on Dec. 7 is 30 arc minutes).

Example: From Jacksonville, closest approach is 10:23 p.m. EST, the separation is listed at 7 arc minutes or fractionally roughly 1/4 of the moon’s width will separate Mars from the moon’s lower edge.

Europe too! And after 2022, your next opportunity

Europeans will also be able to partake in this occultation, although for them this event will occur during the predawn morning hours of Thursday (Dec. 8) with the moon descending the west-northwest sky. For Lisbon, Mars will disappear behind the moon at 4:28 a.m. local time and will reappear at 5:02 a.m. For Dublin it’s 4:55 a.m. and 5:56 a.m. London: 5:00 a.m. and 5:59 a.m. Berlin: 6:01 a.m. and 6:56 a.m. Paris: 6:04 a.m. and 7:02 a.m., and Madrid 6:21 a.m. and 7:07 a.m.

The next favorable occultation of Mars for North America will take place on January 14, 2025. at around 4h UT. The moon will be a waning gibbous about 6 hours past full. Mars comes to opposition just two days later.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium (opens in new tab). He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine (opens in new tab), the Farmers’ Almanac (opens in new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab)

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Rare ‘big fuzzy green ball’ comet visible in B.C. skies, a 50000-year sight

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In the night sky, a comet is flying by Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.

Steve Coleopy, of the South Cariboo Astronomy Club, is offering some tips on how to see it before it disappears.

The green-coloured comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), is not readily visible to the naked eye, although someone with good eyesight in really dark skies might be able to see it, he said. The only problem is it’s getting less visible by the day.

“Right now the comet is the closest to earth and is travelling rapidly away,” Coleopy said, noting it is easily seen through binoculars and small telescopes. “I have not been very successful in taking a picture of it yet, because it’s so faint, but will keep trying, weather permitting.”

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At the moment, the comet is located between the bowl of the Big Dipper and the North Star but will be moving toward the Planet Mars – a steady orange-coloured point of light- in the night sky over the next couple of weeks, according to Coleopy.

“I have found it best to view the comet after 3:30 in the morning, after the moon sets,” he said. “It is still visible in binoculars even with the moon still up, but the view is more washed out because of the moonlight.”

He noted the comet looks like a “big fuzzy green ball,” as opposed to the bright pinpoint light of the stars.

“There’s not much of a tail, but if you can look through the binoculars for a short period of time, enough for your eyes to acclimatize to the image, it’s quite spectacular.”

To know its more precise location on a particular evening, an internet search will produce drawings and pictures of the comet with dates of where and when the comet will be in each daily location.

Coleopy notes the comet will only be visible for a few more weeks, and then it won’t return for about 50,000 years.


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Extreme species deficit of nitrogen-converting microbes in European lakes

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Sampling of Lake Constance water from 85 m depth, in which ammonia-oxidizing archaea make up as much as 40% of all microorganisms

Dr. David Kamanda Ngugi, environmental microbiologist at the Leibniz Institute DSMZ

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Leibniz Institute DSMZ

 

An international team of researchers led by microbiologists from the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH in Braunschweig, Germany, shows that in the depths of European lakes, the detoxification of ammonium is ensured by an extremely low biodiversity of archaea. The researchers recently published their findings in the prestigious international journal Science Advances. The team led by environmental microbiologists from the Leibniz Institute DSMZ has now shown that the species diversity of these archaea in lakes around the world ranges from 1 to 15 species. This is of particularly concern in the context of global biodiversity loss and the UN Biodiversity Conference held in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022. Lakes play an important role in providing freshwater for drinking, inland fisheries, and recreation. These ecosystem services would be at danger from ammonium enrichment. Ammonium is an essential component of agricultural fertilizers and contributes to its remarkable increase in environmental concentrations and the overall im-balance of the global nitrogen cycle. Nutrient-poor lakes with large water masses (such as Lake Constance and many other pre-alpine lakes) harbor enormously large populations of archaea, a unique class of microorganisms. In sediments and other low-oxygen environments, these archaea convert ammonium to nitrate, which is then converted to inert dinitrogen gas, an essential component of the air. In this way, they contribute to the detoxification of ammonium in the aquatic environment. In fact, the species predominant in European lakes is even clonal and shows low genetic microdiversity between different lakes. This low species diversity contrasts with marine ecosystems where this group of microorganisms predominates with much greater species richness, making the stability of ecosystem function provided by these nitrogen-converting archaea potentially vulnerable to environmental change.

Maintenance of drinking water quality
Although there is a lot of water on our planet, only 2.5% of it is fresh water. Since much of this fresh water is stored in glaciers and polar ice caps, only about 80% of it is even accessible to us humans. About 36% of drinking water in the European Union is obtained from surface waters. It is therefore crucial to understand how environmental processes such as microbial nitrification maintain this ecosystem service. The rate-determining phase of nitrification is the oxidation of ammonia, which prevents the accumulation of ammonium and converts it to nitrate via nitrite. In this way, ammonium is prevented from contaminating water sources and is necessary for its final conversion to the harmless dinitrogen gas. In this study, deep lakes on five different continents were investigated to assess the richness and evolutionary history of ammonia-oxidizing archaea. Organisms from marine habitats have traditionally colonized freshwater ecosystems. However, these archaea have had to make significant changes in their cell composition, possible only a few times during evolution, when they moved from marine habitats to freshwaters with much lower salt concentrations. The researchers identified this selection pressure as the major barrier to greater diversity of ammonia-oxidizing archaea colonizing freshwaters. The researchers were also able to determine when the few freshwater archaea first appeared. Ac-cording to the study, the dominant archaeal species in European lakes emerged only about 13 million years ago, which is quite consistent with the evolutionary history of the European lakes studied.

Slowed evolution of freshwater archaea
The major freshwater species in Europe changed relatively little over the 13 million years and spread almost clonally across Europe and Asia, which puzzled the researchers. Currently, there are not many examples of such an evolutionary break over such long time periods and over large intercontinental ranges. The authors suggest that the main factor slowing the rapid growth rates and associated evolutionary changes is the low temperatures (4 °C) at the bottom of the lakes studied. As a result, these archaea are restricted to a state of low genetic diversity. It is unclear how the extremely species-poor and evolutionarily static freshwater archaea will respond to changes induced by global climate warming and eutrophication of nearby agricultur-al lands, as the effects of climate change are more pronounced in freshwater than in marine habitats, which is associated with a loss of biodiversity.

Publication: Ngugi DK, Salcher MM, Andre A-S, Ghai R., Klotz F, Chiriac M-C, Ionescu D, Büsing P, Grossart H-S, Xing P, Priscu JC, Alymkulov S, Pester M. 2022. Postglacial adaptations enabled coloniza-tion and quasi-clonal dispersal of ammonia oxidizing archaea in modern European large lakes. Science Advances: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adc9392

Press contact:
PhDr. Sven-David Müller, Head of Public Relations, Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH
Phone: ++49 (0)531/2616-300
Mail: press@dsmz.de

About the Leibniz Institute DSMZ
The Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures is the world’s most diverse collection of biological resources (bacteria, archaea, protists, yeasts, fungi, bacteriophages, plant viruses, genomic bacterial DNA as well as human and animal cell lines). Microorganisms and cell cultures are collected, investigated and archived at the DSMZ. As an institution of the Leibniz Association, the DSMZ with its extensive scientific services and biological resources has been a global partner for research, science and industry since 1969. The DSMZ was the first registered collection in Europe (Regulation (EU) No. 511/2014) and is certified according to the quality standard ISO 9001:2015. As a patent depository, it offers the only possibility in Germany to deposit biological material in accordance with the requirements of the Budapest Treaty. In addition to scientific services, research is the second pillar of the DSMZ. The institute, located on the Science Campus Braunschweig-Süd, accommodates more than 82,000 cultures and biomaterials and has around 200 employees. www.dsmz.de

PhDr. Sven David Mueller, M.Sc.
Leibniz-Institut DSMZ
+49 531 2616300
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Scientists are closing in on why the universe exists

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Particle astrophysicist Benjamin Tam hopes his work will help us understand a question. A very big one.

“The big question that we are trying to answer with this research is how the universe was formed,” said Tam, who is finishing his PhD at Queen’s University.

“What is the origin of the universe?”

And to answer that question, he and dozens of fellow scientists and engineers are conducting a multi-million dollar experiment two kilometres below the surface of the Canadian Shield in a repurposed mine near Sudbury, Ontario.

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Ten thousand light-sensitive cameras send data to scientists watching for evidence of a neutrino bumping into another particle. (Tom Howell/CBC)

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB) is already famous for an earlier experiment that revealed how neutrinos ‘oscillate’ between different versions of themselves as they travel here from the sun.

This finding proved a vital point: the mass of a neutrino cannot be zero. The experiment’s lead scientist, Arthur McDonald, shared the Nobel Prize in 2015 for this discovery.

The neutrino is commonly known as the ‘ghost particle.’ Trillions upon trillions of them emanate from the sun every second. To humans, they are imperceptible except through highly specialized detection technology that alerts us to their presence.

Neutrinos were first hypothesized in the early 20th century to explain why certain important physics equations consistently produced what looked like the wrong answers. In 1956, they were proven to exist.

A digital image of a sphere that is blue and transparent with lines all over.
The neutrino detector is at the heart of the SNO+ experiment. An acrylic sphere containing ‘scintillator’ liquid is suspended inside a larger water-filled globe studded with 10,000 light-sensitive cameras. (Submitted by SNOLOAB)

Tam and his fellow researchers are now homing in on the biggest remaining mystery about these tiny particles.

Nobody knows what happens when two neutrinos collide. If it can be shown that they sometimes zap each other out of existence, scientists could conclude that a neutrino acts as its own ‘antiparticle’.

Such a conclusion would explain how an imbalance arose between matter and anti-matter, thus clarifying the current existence of all the matter in the universe.

It would also offer some relief to those hoping to describe the physical world using a model that does not imply none of us should be here.

A screengrab of two scientists wearing white hard hat helmets, clear googles and blue safety suits standing on either side of CBC producer holding a microphone. All three people are laughing.
IDEAS producer Tom Howell (centre) joins research scientist Erica Caden (left) and Benjamin Tam on a video call from their underground lab. (Screengrab: Nicola Luksic)

Guests in this episode (in order of appearance):

Benjamin Tam is a PhD student in Particle Astrophysics at Queen’s University.

Eve Vavagiakis is a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow in the Physics Department at Cornell University. She’s the author of a children’s book, I’m A Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe.

Blaire Flynn is the senior education and outreach officer at SNOLAB.

Erica Caden is a research scientist at SNOLAB. Among her duties she is the detector manager for SNO+, responsible for keeping things running day to day.


*This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic and Tom Howell. It is part of an on-going series, IDEAS from the Trenches, some stories are below.

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