All planets of the solar system are continuously moving as they orbit the Sun and when viewed from Earth, this results in an ever changing scene against the backdrop of the fixed stars. Quite often two planets will appear very close together in the night sky, a planet will pass in front of a distant star or one will briefly obscure the light of a beautiful open cluster. These conjunctions and occultations can be spectacular events, rewarding for visual observers and excellent opportunities for imagers to capture that stunning photo.
One such event will take place from September 7, 2013 until September 10, 2013 when Mars will move across the southern section of M44 the famous Beehive or Praesepe open cluster.
The conjunction is visible towards the east in the early morning sky about an hour or two before sunrise. Mars should be relatively easy to find; it's a naked eye object (mag. +1.6) and appears red-orange in colour. Located about 20 degrees west of Mars is the much brighter and more brilliant Jupiter (mag. -2.1).
The chart below shows Mars as it moves through M44. At magnitude +3.7, M44 is visible to the naked eye but the conjunction is probably best seen with binoculars or a small /medium sized telescope at low powers. The view should be superb, bright vivid bright Mars against the backdrop of superb M44.
Mars data table around the time of conjunction with M44
|Date||Right Ascension||Declination||Apparent Magnitude||Apparent Size||Illum. (%)||Distance from Earth (AU)||Constellation|
|Sep 5, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 29m 52.1s||20d 03m 14.1s||1.7||04.1"||96||2.275||Cancer|
|Sep 6, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 32m 29.6s||19d 54m 30.1s||1.6||04.1"||96||2.270||Cancer|
|Sep 7, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 35m 06.7s||19d 45m 38.7s||1.6||04.1"||96||2.265||Cancer|
|Sep 8, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 37m 43.3s||19d 36m 39.8s||1.6||04.1"||96||2.261||Cancer|
|Sep 9, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 40m 19.4s||19d 27m 33.8s||1.6||04.2"||96||2.256||Cancer|
|Sep 10, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 42m 54.9s||19d 18m 20.6s||1.6||04.2"||96||2.251||Cancer|
|Sep 11, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 45m 30.0s||19d 09m 00.5s||1.6||04.2"||96||2.246||Cancer|
|Sep 12, 2013 (00:00 UT)||08h 48m 04.6s||18d 59m 33.5s||1.6||04.2"||96||2.241||Cancer|