Mars turned blue overnight as it goes retrograde and converges towards Earth

Mars is looking and behaving weird right now! It tunred blue overnight and is now converging towards Earth in a retrograde move…

Mars is supposed to be red. But when amateur astronomer Thomas Williamson looked on Oct. 26th, he saw a different color. The north pole was electric blue.

Mars turns BLUE
Mars turned BLUE. Space Weather Gallery

Williamson photographed the North Polar Hood, a giant cloud of water ice that forms over the Martian north pole during winter.

Why blue?

That’s the color of sunlight scattered from very tiny crystals of ice (smaller than the wavelength of light itself) floating in the cloud.

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Well, I’m looking forward to the next few weeks as Mars increases in apparent size.

Indeed the view is about to improve as Earth and Mars converge for a close encounter on Dec. 1st. Between now and then, Mars will double in brightness to magnitude -1.9 (brighter than Sirius) and increase in size to 17.2 arcseconds. Look for the Red Planet and its blue hood rising in the east after sunset in the constellation Taurus as indicated in the map below.

How to observe Mars during its retrograde
How to observe Mars during its retrograde.

Mars goes retrograde

For months, Mars has been creeping eastward among the stars of the constellation Taurus. Yesterday, Oct. 30th, it reversed course. Now the planet is moving westward. Astronomers call this “retrograde motion.”

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It’s a sign that Earth and Mars are about to have a close encounter as shown in the movie below:

The onset of retrograde motion means that Earth and Mars are converging. At closest approach on Dec. 1st the two worlds will be just 0.545 AU apart, providing spectacular views through backyard telescopes.

Less than a week later on Dec. 7th the Moon will pass in front of Mars, creating a lunar occultation visible from parts of the Americas, Europe and Northern Africa.

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Retrograde motion will continue through Jan 12, 2023. Enjoy the show! [SpaceWeather]

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  1. I’ll be able to see things here in the mountains. Sometimes it’s so clear you can see the Milky Way and thousands of stars. Sometimes you get too many night clouds, like during Perseid and Leonid meteor showers. A couple years back, Venus was huge in the night sky. Very bright. It forced me to go look up the situation on astronomy websites.

      • Lights are what hoses up city skywatching. I have yard lights and they hurt my views, but I also have a spot where those yard lights don’t hurt my views. Bad timing of clouds is what ticks me off the most. That’s the mountains. When it’s clear, it is hard to beat though.

        I feel the best night skywatching was the High Sierras back in my youth and camping. You could see satellites and they crossed the same path of orbit every night. That’s where I saw an enormous fireball, and we were at high altitude. 1971 in Aug.