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Crescent Moon and Mars to Pair Up in the Sky Early Sunday

The waning crescent moon will appear just above the planet Mars in the night sky on the Sunday before Christmas (Dec. 22).
The waning crescent moon will appear just above the planet Mars in the night sky on the Sunday before Christmas (Dec. 22).
(Image: © NASA JPL)

Although it isn't Santa Claus, something red will shine in the night sky under the moon just days before Christmas.

On Dec. 22, skygazers looking toward the constellation Libra before sunrise will find the planet Mars sitting in the sky just below the crescent moon. These two jewels of the night sky will be only about 3 degrees apart, in what is known as a conjunction.

Their closest apparent approach will occur when both celestial objects are below the horizon, at 8:49 p.m. EST (0149 GMT on Dec. 23). But they'll still appear near each other when they rise at about 4:15 a.m. East Coast local time, according to In-The-Sky.org.

Related: Amazing Moon Photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The moon and Mars will rise above the horizon about 3 hours before the sun comes up, reaching an altitude of 23 degrees above the southeastern horizon. They'll fade from view as dawn approaches at around 7 a.m. EST, according to the website. 

By Monday (Dec. 23), the pair will still be visible but the waning crescent moon will have moved below Mars, according to a video published by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The phases of the moon for this month, presented with the December date that corresponds to the phase.

The phases of the moon for this month, presented with the December date that corresponds to the phase. (Image credit: NASA JPL)

The crescent will vanish soon thereafter, when the moon enters its new phase on Christmas Day (Dec. 25).

This pair is best viewed with the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars, because these celestial objects are too far apart in the sky to simultaneously appear in the viewfinder of a telescope. 

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  • rod
    Tracking Mars now with a telescope view through opposition in October 2020, the red planet will undergo dramatic changes in size and brightness too in telescope views, along with surface features becoming apparent later. This is great fun!
    Reply