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Moon occults Mars on December 7 and 8

Full moon passes Mars on December 7.
December 7 to 8 is a busy night as the full moon occults Mars just hours before Mars’s opposition. Opposition is when an object is opposite the sun in Earth’s sky. During opposition, the 3 objects are in a line with Earth in the middle. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

The moon occults Mars

Here’s hoping you have clear skies on the evening of December 7 to 8, because there’s much to see! First, the full moon is near Mars in the early evening of December 7, 2022. The precise moment of full moon is at 10:08 p.m. CST on December 7 (4:08 UTC on December 8). Over the evening, as the moon moves past Mars, it will pass in front of the red planet for much of North America and Europe. This is known as an occultation, as the moon covers up or eclipses Mars. Then, around 12 a.m. CST (6 UTC) on December 8, Mars reaches opposition. During opposition, the sun, Earth and Mars will form a line, with Earth in the middle.

To see the occultation of Mars, you’ll want to check In-the-Sky.org to find the precise time Mars will disappear and reappear from your location. This fascinating and unusual event appears to skywatchers who are northwest of a diagonal line drawn from Augusta, Maine, through Columbus, Ohio, through Little Rock, Arkansas, and San Antonio, Texas, extending into Mexico. The map below will let you know if your part of the world gets to view the occultation.

For those who live outside the viewing area, as in the southeastern United States, you’ll see the moon and Mars skim right past each other. Some places will even get to see Mars play peekaboo along the cratered and mountainous limb of the moon.

Map of where you can see the moon occult Mars with cylindrical shading over much of Northern Hemisphere.
If you want to see the moon occult Mars, you’ll have to be within the shaded area on the map. Image via Dominic Ford/ In-the-Sky.org.

Mars at opposition

Because Mars reaches opposition in December 2022, it’s the best month to view it. Mars’s opposition, when it’s opposite the sun in our sky, means that it’s visible from sundown to sunup. During December, the red planet will also be at its brightest. It’s the closest Mars will be to Earth for the next two years.

Because the moon will be full and bright on December 7-8, you’ll want to use binoculars to spot the dimmer planet.

Inside a circle is a big white circle and small red circle with arrow showing motion.
On the evening of December 7, 2022, in much of North America and in the early morning hours of December 8, 2022, for much of Europe, the moon occults Mars. Check In-the-Sky.org for precise timing of the disappearance and reappearance of Mars from your location. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

Other sights this night

While you’re out stargazing, look for the shimmering star cluster of the Pleiades. You should also spot the fiery red star Aldebaran nearby. Does Mars or Aldebaran look redder to you? And, of course, the eye-catching constellation of Orion the Hunter is near the horizon. Take advantage of this night filled with wonderful observing opportunities.

Bottom line: On the evening of December 7 to 8, 2022, depending on location, the full moon occults Mars just hours before Mars reaches opposition.

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