Your Night Sky for Sept. 30, 2020

Magnificent Mars

This is a great month for observing Mars. Oct. 6, Mars will become closest to us until 2035. It was actually a little closer in July 2018, but it was so low in the sky that it was difficult to observe. Now it’s at an altitude of at least 55 degrees, so its 30 degrees higher than it was two years ago. It will begin by appearing with the moon tomorrow. But the moon will soon rise later allowing us to view Mars by itself.

Mars will even outshine Jupiter and become the brightest planet in our sky. Opposition is when a planet is directly across from the Sun in our sky, making the planet very bright. The best opposition is when the planet is higher in the sky, which Mars is now. So, Mars will rise at sunset, travel across the sky, and set at sunrise.

Planets are always brightest to observe when sunlight falls on it from behind us, to really light it up. Another reason Mars will look so bright is because it lies in one of the darkest places of our sky. It will be in the East and SE where all the fainter constellations are.

This time Mars South Pole is visible on its east side giving us spectacular views of its Southern Hemisphere. Since the Sun is shining on that part of Mars, much of its frozen Carbon Dioxide has vaporized into its atmosphere, allowing us to see more of the planet.

Something interesting about Mars is that it rotates once every 24.6 hours as opposed to Earth’s 24 hours. So, if you observe it every night, you will notice that planetary objects slide a little eastward every night. It takes 41 days for objects to return to their original location.

Mars does have dust storms which break out when summer arrives. So, we may see clouds when we observe the planet. For a while astronomers thought there were water filled Martian seas. But now they’ve realized that there is no water. So there’s no liquid water or vegetation on Mars, just lots of sand and dust.

Best viewing is when it reaches its highest point in the sky an hour before and after midnight.

Obviously, a telescope will allow you to observe a lot of details, but binoculars will also give you good viewing. I can’t wait to observe Mars!  So have fun!