Mars will be shining bright in the night sky this month – here's how to see it

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 2:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st October 2020, 3:49 pm
(Image: Shutterstock)

The month of October brings a few treats for stargazers looking up.

First, a bright Harvest Moon lights up the skies on the evening of 1 October.

But this year's Harvest Moon will be joined by Mars, the red planet which will appear very close to the moon in the night sky.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Here's everything you need to know - and how to see it.

How do I see Mars?

Seeing Mars couldn't be simpler.

To see it, look for an object that appears as a bright red "star" low in the eastern sky on any clear evening.

Just after sunset darkness falls, you'll see a fiery source of yellowish orange light. That's Mars, the famous "Red Planet".

You shouldn’t miss it – the planet won’t be as bright again until 2035, and will appear even brighter than Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System.

Why is Mars so bright?

This brightness is caused by the planet being at its closest point to Earth along its multi-million mile orbit around the Sun.

It will still be a good distance away though, but the planet will pass with 40 million miles (64 million kilometres) of Earth.

These occurrences are relatively rare, and usually take place occurring about every 15 or so years.

Mars' brightness will be somewhat washed out by the full moon (the only night sky object brighter than in at the moment).

So while you might not get the spectacular pairing of the two celestial bodies together later in the month, you will at least get that dazzling brightness.

Mars will also reach "opposition" on 13 October, the moment when the sun, Earth and Mars form a straight line in space.

When a planet reaches opposition, it lies exactly opposite from the sun in Earth's sky: It rises at sunset, reaches its highest point in the sky at midnight, and sets at sunrise.

When is the best time to see it?

If it's cloudy over the next few nights, fear not. There's still plenty of time to catch Mars.

The planet will be in the night skies throughout October and even into November.

What is a Harvest Moon?

Back to the Moon now.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the term ‘Harvest Moon’ is applied to the full moon which falls closest to the autumn equinox.

This year the autumn equinox – the moment when the sun is directly above the Earth’s equator and the day and night are of equal length – fell on September 22, so the full moon of 1 October is 2020’s Harvest Moon.

The name makes no difference to the appearance of the moon, which will retain its usual bright white appearance in the night sky.

It's possible you could notice an orange hue to the moon should you seek it out, but that effect is only to do with the moon’s proximity to the horizon.

Many people will be looking for the Harvest Moon just after sunset, when the moon will be much lower in the sky.

Any perceived orange colour is merely a trick of the light: when you look toward the horizon you’re looking through a greater thickness of Earth’s atmosphere.

Of course, you won’t need any specialist equipment to see it (the full moon will be just as visible as it always is), although there is always a risk that cloud cover could scupper your lunar enjoyment.