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Strange Universe: The Week of Mars 12/4/22

This is the week of Mars. Its opposition – when it’s exactly the opposite the sun in our sky – is this Thursday. Its closest and brightest happened a few days ago. And this Wednesday night, December 7th, it closely meets the Full Moon. We’ll also hear what Mars has been up to.

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  • The only two disks in our sky, the moon and sun, both appear the same size. This is true nowhere else. It alone creates total solar eclipses. In just a few tens of millions of years, the slowly spiraling-away moon will look too small to cover up the sun. Total solar eclipses are only happening now, when humans are around.
  • Everyone knows the terms waxing and waning, and usually know a waxing Moon gets fatter each night while a waning Moon gets thinner. But relatively few of your friends could look at a moon and instantly tell whether it’s a waxing or a waning one. So let's make it easy. The waxing moon is lit up on the right. It's the moon you see during the weeks before full moon. It's also the moon that's already out when darkness falls, so it's the one seen by the most people. The dinnertime moon.
  • Lunar eclipses appear best through binoculars or just the naked eye. The full moon is never a good telescope target, and hosting Earth’s blurry-edged shadow doesn't help much. It's not terrible, like macaroni salad, but Earth's shadow edge is fuzzy, and fuzzy is not a good thing through a telescope.