Mars is one of the half dozen swiftest-moving objects in the sky — not counting the occasional near-Earth asteroid or comet. Except when it’s closest to Earth, Mars moves through the stars at roughly 1.4? per hour, or ½° per day. So it’s possible — though challenging — to track the planet’s progress from one night to the next with your unaided eyes.

But if you want to see Mars move during a single observing session, you’ll need a telescope, or at the very least binoculars.

Click above for a full-page, printable version of this chart.

S&T Illustration

A planet’s motion is easiest to see when there’s a bright star very nearby to provide a frame of reference. Stargazers in far-western Europe and Africa and the easternmost sections of the Americas had such an opportunity on the night of May 19–20, when Mars passed just north of the 5.3-magnitude Eta Cancri. The planet was less than 3? from the star from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. EDT on May 19th (0:00 to 1:30 May 20th Universal Time).

Circumstances are even better three nights later, when Mars plunges into Messier 44, the Beehive — a whole cluster of stars! A particularly close encounter is viewable low in the sky from America’s West Coast around 11:30 p.m. PDT on May 22nd, with Mars less than 1? south of 6.4-magnitude 39 Cancri. A half hour later, the planet is directly between this star and its nearby 6.6-magnitude companion. Click here for a full-page, printable chart showing Mars's track through the Beehive.

Western Europe and Africa and the easternmost Americas are again favored for the closest approach of all, at 9:00 p.m. EDT on May 23rd (1:00 UT May 24th). That’s when you’ll find the planet’s center about 16? — just 3 Mars diameters — north of a 6.9-magnitude star. If you look carefully, you should be able to track the planet’s motion almost continuously as it traverses 1.4? every minute — moving its own diameter every 3½ minutes.

But wherever you’re viewing from, even if you miss these spectacularly close conjunctions, Mars’s passage through the Beehive will be an event you’ll never forget.


Image of M. Powell

M. Powell

May 16, 2008 at 1:58 pm

I like this version of the finder chart better than some of the other ones that you have used.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of P Voto

P Voto

May 20, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Mars slightly north of Eta Cancri was a beautiful sight in my 11 x 80 binos with the beehive nearby.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of Melanie


May 21, 2008 at 11:18 am

Last night when I looked at Mars through my 10x50 binoculars, I could immediately see the Beehive right next to it, just the way it looks on the chart. The cluster was a very easy target tonight; perfect to show it to my mom for the very first time. And that's just what I did. She loved it too!

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of Rick


May 21, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Since M44 is my favorite Messier, this has been top priority. Have viewed a couple times with my 15x70 LW Garrett Optical Bino's and have blown away. Expect clouds Thursday, so I may miss the actual "occultation".

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of Paul


May 23, 2008 at 4:21 am

Looked at it tonight between thunderstorms and it looked fantastic. Use a 80mm refractor using a 32mm and 25mm eyepiece. The transparency was good, but the seeing was real turbulent.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of Rahul Zota

Rahul Zota

October 4, 2011 at 2:26 am

It was really a nice event to watch through binoculars. I also took it's picture using my canon camera. Here is the pic!

You must be logged in to post a comment.

You must be logged in to post a comment.