Professional and amateur astronomers alike will have plenty to look forward to in July. Not only will we be able to get our best view of Mars in the last 15 years, but there’s also a Blood Moon eclipse scheduled for this month as well!
Mars is about to achieve a bi-annual position in its orbit that astronomers call “opposition.” Basically, it means that Mars, Earth and the sun will all be in a direct line with each other. The end result, if you’re in the right place on the planet, is a bright red moon that we call a “blood moon.”
This event will occur on July 27th. The best place to view the Blood Moon will be in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where the eclipse will last a staggering 1 hour and 43 minutes. Unfortunately, those of us that live in North America will only be able to see the eclipse via live online feeds. The biggest benefit of a lunar eclipse like the Blood Moon scheduled on the 27th is that they’re totally safe to view with the naked eye—something we can’t do with solar eclipses.
What makes a Blood Moon special is that the moon moves into the deepest part of the earth’s shadow during the eclipse. As sunlight penetrates the earth’s atmosphere, it falls on the surface of the moon, and instead of the moon appearing pitch black (as in normal eclipses) it will appear red.
For those of us that won’t be able to see this particular lunar eclipse live, don’t seat it too much. North America will get another chance on January 21, 2019.
As for the proximity of Mars to Earth, your best opportunity to view the red planet will be on July 31st, when it will close to a distance of 35.8 million miles and appear 10 times brighter than usual in the night sky. It will appear as a bright, star-like object in the mid to late evening sky in the southeast. It’s part of the constellation Capricornus, so a good star map app will get you focused in the right spot.