A Close Call Coming for Mars
While the red planet shines bright, a chunk of space debris soars its way
The moon wanes through late-evening and early-morning skies this week, reaching last quarter on the 31st. Thursday night, the moon shines just one-half degree below blue-white Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion and Friday it hovers five degrees beneath Saturn. Early Tuesday morning, the moon rises before 2am and shines less than three degrees above Spica in Virgo.
Mars remains a bright, yellow-orange beacon in our evening skies, having passed its closest to Eearth just two weeks ago while reaching opposition its point farthest from the sun just days ago. The red planet appears above the east-northeast horizon at sunset and is almost directly overhead between 11pm and midnight.
Our eyes aren’t the only things bearing down on Mars, as an asteroid 100 to 200 feet in diameter nears the planet. Astronomers spotted the orbiting rock, dubbed 2007 WD5, back in November. The asteroid’s last loop through our solar system, back in 1979, brought it within 400,000 miles of Mars, but calculations have the asteroid missing Mars by only 55,000 miles on January 30, with a one-in-75 chance of a direct collision! While the impact would be indiscernible with your average backyard telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope or any of the three spacecraft orbiting Mars could catch some real pyrotechnics.
Venus rises before 5am, a blazing light low in the southeast. Ten degrees below shines Antares, the heart of the scorpion. Meaning rival of Mars, compare this red-giant to its namesake in the opposite corner of the heavens.
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