‘Rare Astronomical Event' Set for Wednesday, But Will You Be Able to See It?

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

A "rare astronomical event" is slated to take place in the sky Wednesday, but will you be able to see it in the Chicago area?

A “lunar occultation” is set to take place in the evening on Wednesday. The lunar occultation marks the point where the planet Mars, which will be at its brightest for the entire year Thursday and is at its highest point in more than a year, will appear very close to the bottom edge of the full moon, according to the Adler Planetarium.

For those who watch it, Mars will disappear behind the moon just after 9 p.m. and reappear on the opposite edge of the moon at about 10:06 p.m. CST, the planetarium reports.

Astronomers say the process is called “lunar occultation,” which is very similar to an eclipse. A occultation of Mars occurred earlier this year, but it saw only a partial obscuration of the planet, and it was visible only in parts of Asia.

While the phenomenon will still be visible only at certain times and from certain parts of Earth, Chicago is in line to catch the sight this time around.

The last time the moon passed in front of Mars and it was visible in the Chicago area was in 2020. Such a sighting is not expected to happen again until 2025.

"It happens but it is kind of rare that you're able to see this," said Michelle Nichols, the director of public observing at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Nichols noted that while occultations happen often, "in this case, it's pretty exciting because Mars is bright," meaning both objects can be seen with the naked eye.

But Mother Nature may not play ball this year for everyone. Mostly to partly cloudy skies are expected Wednesday, which could leave some sky watchers unable to see the event in the Chicago area. Still, according to the NBC 5 Storm Team, there is hope.

Meteorologist Paul Deanno said there is potential for some clearing during the mid-afternoon and mid-evening hours, that could offer those in and around Chicago a "passing glimpse."

"Perhaps that's all it will take to enjoy the occultation," Deanno said.

The Adler Planetarium will also be offering a live stream of the event from their observatory telescope here.

The good news is, it's not the only thing to look for in the sky this month.

Later in the month, Adler astronomers say that as many as five planets will be visible to the naked eye. With the waxing crescent moon in the night sky around Christmas Day on Dec. 25, four planets will appear in the sky near the moon, officials say.

Mercury will appear as a faint spot in the southwest sky, and the much-brighter Venus will appear closer to the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn will both also be visible on the opposite side of the moon, while Mars will be closer to the northeastern part of the sky in the evening.

The key to seeing this particular spectacle will be to have a clear sight-line of the southwestern sky approximately 45 minutes after sunset. That will enable viewers to see the four planets in the southern and southwestern portions of the sky, and to see Mars in the northeastern portion.

This spectacle will be visible during the last week of December, officials said.

For more information, stargazers can check out the Adler Planetarium’s website.

Contact Us