NASA representatives told Utah residents to look to the east Monday (Jan 21) night and watch the moon cross the night sky.
As the moon rises high in the south it will cover up the planet Jupiter. The two bodies should be close together on Monday evening and will move together throughout the night.
Patrick Wiggins, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, said Jupiter will be easily visible without a telescope even from areas with city lights. He advised those viewing from a rural area with a telescope to also watch for the cluster of stars known as the Seven Sisters, or Subaru in Japanese. The cluster will cross the sky just ahead of the moon and Jupiter.
Events such as these are known as occultations and lunar occultations happen frequently. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory’s 2013 Astronomical Almanac, the same event will happen when the moon covers Jupiter on February 18, less than one month later.
BYU associate professor Eric Hintz said this type of event is popular for amateur viewing because a small telescope can make it spectacular, but lunar occultations do not generate much interest in the academic community.
“The better way to have it happen for research is for the planet to cross in front of a star, and then we can study the atmosphere of the planet,” Hintz said. “When that happens, in a lot of major observatories, at least historically, they would take over all the telescopes on the mountain because there’s research there.”
Before space programs were able to reach planets like Uranus and Neptune, the astronomy community would count on occultations to “use what nature gave us,” Hintz said, and gather data such as atmospheric density using the light from a star behind the planet.
Optimal viewing of the moon at this time of year would be in the southern hemisphere, according to U.S. Naval Observatory. Not only is the moon closer there but temperatures make star-gazing much more pleasant. National Weather Service predicts a clear night on Monday with lows around 22 degrees for Provo.