There’s a rare occurrence happening in the sky tonight that will be visible from the Chicago area! Called a lunar occultation, this astronomical event only happens when the moon passes in front of a planet and removes it from view, which means Mars will be at its best vantage point since 2020!
When will this occur?
Around 9:11 p.m. CST-10:05 p.m. CST, Mars will appear to slip behind the moon– for only about an hour during this occultation.
Weather permitting, the event is set to occur tonight and should be visible to all! Adler officials mention that Mars will appear brightly in the sky, so viewers won’t need special equipment to see the occurrence, but officials do recommend trying out a pair of binoculars to watch as Mars slowly dims and disappears, before remerging and brightening.
This occultation will be visible in Chicago and the greater area– just take a look near the Taurus constellation as the planet is at its highest point in the sky within the last 15 months. As the full moon rises, Mars will disappear from view, hiding behind the moon, just after 9 p.m., officials say. About an hour later, it will reappear on the other side of the moon as it moves across the sky.
This only occurs as Mars reaches its ‘bright opposition’– a moment that only happens every 26 months! While it’s not unusual for the moon to block a planet for some time, the full moon tonight and mars at its full peak will make this particular occurrence a rare event! Adler Planetarium calls this particular event “a celestial magic trick, causing Mars to disappear behind it and reappear later.”
Mars has been of great note recently, as it leads up to this phenomenon. The next day, Mars will stand in opposition to the sun and will look much bigger, brighter, and more vibrantly red than usual.
If you can’t make it outside, see the occultation live (weather permitting) at 9 p.m. on Adler’s YouTube program Sky Observers Hangout where they’ll also answer questions via the YouTube chat!
If you miss the lunar occultation entirely, the next occurrence visible to Chicagoans will be on January 13, 2025.
But, on Christmas, While Chicago is already twinkling with seasonal displays, the area will be hit with different sorts of celestial glows throughout December. Glance up at the sky as four planets (Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn) appear at various vantage points.