Unique Celestial Event to Occur in Chicago Next Month as Mars Plays ‘Peekaboo'

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The twinkle of Christmas lights will give Chicago-area residents plenty to enjoy in the month of December, but several interesting celestial events may just distract you from Earthbound shows.

According to the Adler Planetarium, a “lunar occultation” will take place on the night of Dec. 7, while a total of five planets could be visible to the naked eye around Christmastime.

The “lunar occultation” will take place early in the evening on Dec. 7, according to planetarium officials.

The planet Mars will be at its peak of brightness for the entire year in the first week of the month, and on the night of the full moon on Dec. 7, it will actually be at its highest point in the sky in the last 15 months, according to astronomers.

As the full moon rises, Mars will actually disappear behind the moon just after 9 p.m., officials say. Roughly an hour later, it will reappear on the other side of the moon as it continues its journey across the night sky.

Astronomers say the process is called “lunar occultation,” which is very similar to an eclipse. The phenomenon will only be visible at certain times and for certain parts of the Earth, and Chicago will be included this time around.

A occultation of Mars occurred earlier this year, but it only partially obscured the planet, and it was only visible in parts of Asia.

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.

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