If you can brave the cold weather then step outside after sunset tonight and take a gander at the full Moon – its the largest and brightest for 2010. Also just beside it is the planet Mars – which just happens to be at Opposition tonight as well – opposite to the sun in the sky- and at its personal best intil 2014. The spectacular pair will be traveling across the southern sky all night long – so you have plenty of time.
If you have a telescope that is at least 5 inches then you can see some nice details on Mars. The easiest will no doubt be the south polar cap and then some of the barren wind-swept darker regions. But even without any optical aid you can clearly see its distinctive ruddy colour which is caused by sunlight reflecting off the iron-oxide rich sand deserts that cover this barren world. Amazing to think that while the moon is less than 400,000 km away, that bright orange star beside it tonight is a planet more than 98 million km away!
A great double feature for sure. For more info check out my article in National Geographic News.
Posted in Planets, The Moon, Uncategorized | 325 Comments »