As celestial coincidences go, Mars being in conjunction with the Moon on Thursday, February 18, 2021 is pretty neat.
It means that just as NASA’s Mars 2020 mission—complete with its $2.9 billion Perseverance rover (nicknamed “Percy”)—attempts to land on Mars, the “red planet” will be easy to see in the night sky from anywhere in the world.
That will give you a powerful visual reminder that whatever you hear in the news concerning NASA, and astronomy in general, is all happening above your head—and it can very often be glimpsed with your own naked eyes.
So after you’ve followed the landing live on NASA TV on YouTube at 12:55 p.m. PST/3:55 p.m. EST/8:55 p.m. GMT/UTC and 9:55 p.m. CET on on Thursday, February 18, 2021 you can go outside and see Mars for yourself as it passes close to the Moon (as seen from Earth).
Here’s how to follow everything online—and how to find Mars in your night sky.
How to watch NASA’s Mars landing live
Live coverage and commentary of the landing will be beamed across the globe from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California from 1 hour 40 minutes before the landing time (11:15 a.m. PST/2:15 p.m. EST).
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How to find Mars in the night sky from your backyard
While the world follows the mission online there’s something that many will forget to do—and that’s go outside into their backyard and eyeball Mars with their naked eyes.
It’s going to be so easy to do. High in the south after dark, as seen from the northern hemisphere, Mars is still bright enough to get a good look at as NASA makes history this week.
As luck would have it on February 18, 2021, Mars will be just above a 42%-lit waxing Moon. Astronomers call this a conjunction.
The “best” time to see them from North America will be 9:49 p.m. EST, when the two planets will appear to be at their closest.
Repeat the process on Friday, February 19 and you’ll see Mars and a First Quarter Moon form a loose triangle with the luminous tangle of stars called the “Seven Sisters,” an open cluster of hot young blue stars also known as the Pleiades and M45.
About 124 million miles/199 million kilometers from Earth on February 18, 2021, Mars is just over 11 light-minutes away—so as you gaze at Mars you’re seeing it as it was 11 minutes ago.
Far-off space science and astronomy feels much more important when you realize that it’s all happening in your night sky.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.