A celestial event is scheduled to take over our sky later this evening, when Mars will get as close as it will ever be to the Earth this year. At 1am EST on Thursday, December 8 (so: tonight, an hour after midnight), the red planet will likely be visible from Earth.
In technical terms, Mars will be coming into opposition. “Earth will lie directly between Mars and the Sun, and the red planet will remain in the sky above the horizon for most of the night, making it an excellent time to view, clouds permitting,” explains Science Focus. According to Gothamist, the positioning will create a “full moon” effect as Mars will seem extra bright.
As is usually the case in New York, the best way to catch the happening is via telescope. If you don’t have one, try to get as far away from city lights as possible: the darker the sky, the higher the chances of seeing Mars in all of its glory.
If you happen to miss tonight’s spectacle, set your calendar for the night between December 13 and 14, as the Geminids, the most prolific meteor shower of the year, is expected to peak in our area.
“This shower glitters in the constellation of Gemini with bright, intense colors, and can be best seen after 11pm, but most of the action happens later, closer to 2am,” reports Gothamist. “On the night of the peak, locate the moon, which will hover above the horizon, where stargazers will be able to see the brief, white meteors shooting through the sky.”
To put things in perspective, although only 30 to 40 meteors will be visible, the shower usually unleashes up to 150 of them per hour.
The viewing directions are the same for both heavenly occurrences, so make sure to find a really dark area when looking up (Central Park is a good option if staying within Manhattan while Times Square is definitely not a good choice). Other tips include dressing really warm given the colder temperatures we’re expecting and having a lot of patience—you’re going to have to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness.
Happy viewing, folks!
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.