Backyard Observatory

Mars Will Disappear Behind the Moon Tonight. Here's How to See the Rare Event.

moon occults mars
Via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The moon and Mars are about to do a dance. 

Early Tuesday morning, the crescent moon will rise and slide across the sky, briefly blocking the orange orb of Mars. It's kind of like an eclipse, but this is called a lunar occultation, and you'll be able to see the rare celestial event throughout North America.

However, different parts of the occultation will be visible in different areas. To get the best view, you'll want to be looking up into dark skies, away from city lights. However, that won't be possible in some areas where the entirety of occultation will occur after sunrise. You'll be able to see at least part of the event with the naked eye in most places across the US. Though, you'll get a better look with a telescope or even with binoculars.

The timing and what you'll see is going to change depending on where you're located, just like you'd experience with an eclipse. Here's a broad look at the timing, per NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Though, if you want to get granular on a city-by-city level, there are resources for that as well.

In the Eastern time zone, occultation begins just after sunrise. So, you'll probably need a telescope to get a look. In the Central time zone, it starts about 30 minutes before dawn. You'll get to see Mars go behind the moon, but the end of occultation will happen after sunrise. For residents of the Mountain time zone, the event will take place near the horizon between moonrise and sunrise. You're fortunate enough to see both the start and end of the event in the dark.

Most of the west coast will only be able to catch the end of occultation as Mars reappears from behind the moon. Though, that's not true further south in the Pacific time zone. Find a clear view of the horizon in the southeast sky to catch it. 

The timing in each time zone will change slightly for each city. Though, EarthSky provides the expected timing for a few cities. New York City's occultation begins 7:36am and has Mars reappearing at 9:05am (sunrise is at 6:47). In Omaha, the timing is expected to be 5:52am to 7:18am. Denver's occultation starts at 4:41am and has the Red Planet returning at 6:02am. In Los Angeles, that span is 3:38am to 4:29am.

Space.com notes that the moon often makes stars disappear, but the relative brightness of Mars to our eyes on Earth will allow the event to take place a little more slowly. It'll take about 15 seconds for Mars to disappear and appear once its edge makes contact with the moon. It's not something that requires you to sit outside for hours, and it's close enough to work hours that it's going to be quite easy to get the bragging rights for how you maximized your three-day weekend.

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.