Haojing Yan, a MU, said a rare, possibly once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event will be visible from Colombia this winter without the need for binoculars or telescopes — just your eyes, clear skies, and a location where you can see the moon. Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy.
When the full moon moves across the sky on December 7, it will block Mars in what’s called a lunar disappearance. The bright red planet appears to disappear behind the eastern edge of the moon around 9 p.m., and then appear on the other side about 50 minutes later.
Val German, a member of the Central Missouri Astronomical Society, said he’s been observing the sky regularly since 1978 and has never seen anything like the next Martian unseen. It’s rare, he said, that conditions are so comfortable.
“What is unusual about this is the coincidence of Mars approaching Earth in this corridor, and then the full moon,” Germain said. “The Moon obscures Mars from somewhere on Earth several times a year, but from any one place, much less. And after dinner? Much less. Usually, when Mars is obscured, it’s four in the morning, or it’s from Europe Or Antarctica. This service is like room service to us.”
It’s very difficult to calculate how rare this Martian occultation is, said Ronald Bowen, principal engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and MU alum. Based on his own calculations, he estimates that this could happen roughly once every 63 years.
The occultation will occur because Mars will be in opposition, which means that it will be on the directly opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, and the Moon will line up in its full phase. Yan said that astronomical objects have close orbital planes, which makes them appear to be obscuring each other. Mars will be close to Earth, so it will appear larger and brighter than usual.
While the mystery can be seen with the naked eye, Germann said it would look amazing through binoculars and telescopes as well.
“When the moon covers Mars, it takes several seconds for the telescope to cover it,” German said. “It’s very cool. To the eye, it dims and disappears. With a telescope, you can see the disk of Mars and the edge of the moon like a guillotine going through there.”
The occultation occurs on Wednesdays during the opening hours of the Laws Observatory – located at the top of the MU Physics building.
“This is almost as likely as lining up,” Bowen said.
The public can visit the observatory, where German and Bowen plan to broadcast a telescope show of absence on screen so that everyone who attends can see it.
Bowen and Germain said they plan to give two public shows about alibi at the Physics Building, one on the night of the event and one the week before.
“The physics department sees this as a great opportunity to network, and I agree with him because I think this event would be more exciting for the average person than the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction (in 2020),” Bowen said. “It will be a lot more clear.”
Winter astronomical events besides the occultation of Mars include three meteor showers that occur before the end of the year: Leonids, Geminids, and Orsids.
The first meteor shower, Leonids, will peak on the night of November 17 until the early morning of November 18. Germain said that this meteorite might offer the best show of the three. With no visible moon until 1:30 a.m. on November 18, he said, any next “Earth Patron” Leonid would be visible.
“(Earth’s patron) meteors are long-distance, bright, seemingly coming out of the constellation Leo, just northeast and low on the horizon,” Germain said.
He recommends watching for a meteor shower at 11 p.m. on November 17, going east.
Germain also said that he is looking east again for the peak of Gemini on the night of December 13 and the morning of December 14. In this shower, most of the meteors appear to come out of the constellation Gemini.
The moon will be bright, which could make it difficult to see the meteors, but Germain said some will likely still be visible.
On the night of December 21 and the morning of December 22, the Ursids will flash across the sky near Polaris, the North Star, without the moonlight interfering.
Watch the stars and planets
Even on nights when there are no special events, winter is the perfect time to see the stars and planets. The air has less moisture during cold weather than during warm weather, which makes the sky less foggy and better for stargazing. The dimmer the light from the moon, the more visible the stars.
The ideal time for stargazing is during the new moon phase when the side facing the Earth is not lit. The next new moons will occur on November 23 and December 23. Crescent phases are the next best option for seeing stars without interference from moonlight.
Stargazing spots near Columbia include the Big Burr Oak Tree on Burr Oak Road and public nature areas like the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, which closes at 10 p.m.
Germain said that some of the brightest sights in the sky will be the Pleiades, Orion’s belt, Orion Nebula, and Sirius, the brightest star in the sky located in Canis Major. Light from these distant objects takes a long time to reach Earth, so looking at them means looking into the past.
“When you look at Sirius, you see her light as if she left that star about eight years ago,” Germain said. “When you look at any of the bright Orion stars, that light is about 700 years old.”
Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will be visible for the rest of this winter. The public can see the planets through telescopes at Laws Observatory on clear Wednesday nights from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. This schedule will run until December 7, after which the observatory will be closed and reopened on the first Wednesday in February, as conditions permit. air. The Laws Observatory Facebook page posts updates when the observatory is closed due to weather conditions.