Photograph by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
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When you see Mars, wave hello to the Curiosity rover, which captured this self-portrait from the red planet's surface in January.

Photograph by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This Week’s Night Sky: Watch the Moon Meet Mars

Also this week, a meteor shower will start to sprinkle and Saturn will shine near the lunar disk.

Maiden and the Moon. As darkness falls on July 11, watch the quarter moon glide into the zodiacal constellation of Virgo, the maiden, and pair up with its brightest star, Spica.

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The moon visits Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, on July 11.

The brilliant star will appear to be only five degrees south of the moon, about equal to the width of your middle three fingers held at arm’s length. Even from brightly lit suburbs, these two objects will make for an eye-catching sight.

Meteor Kickoff. July 12 marks the official beginning of the Southern Aquarid meteor shower. While the shower won’t be peaking until July 26 to 31, some shooting stars will start to be visible this week in the hours before dawn. And with the moon out of the way in the early mornings this week, the skies should be optimal for catching the shower as it begins to ramp up. The best suggested time to look up is between 2 and 4 a.m. local time.

Individual meteors from this shower can be traced back to their radiant, which is the namesake constellation Aquarius, the water bearer. You can find Aquarius riding high in the southeast skies after local midnight this week.

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On July 14, look for the moon above bright red Mars in the southern sky.

Moon and Mars. Early evening on July 14 will find the moon joining Mars and nearby Saturn in the southern sky. On this night, the moon will be hovering closest to the red planet, just to its upper left. Saturn will appear to the pair’s far left. Look carefully and you may notice that the moon, Mars, and Saturn form a rectangle formation with the bright orange star Antares, which will be just below the ringed planet.

With the moon’s average distance, its light only takes 1.2 seconds to reach our eyes on Earth. By contrast, light from Saturn takes 77 minutes to reach us, and the light from Antares takes a whopping 619 years to reach Earth, meaning we are seeing this star as it appeared in the year 1397!

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On the evening of July 15, observers can catch the moon hovering over the ringed planet Saturn and the red giant star Antares.

Moon and Saturn. By July 15, Saturn will get its chance to hang out with the waxing gibbous moon. This should be a stunning sight even with unaided eyes, as the cosmic duo will appear only three degrees apart, about equal to the width of your two middle fingers held at arm’s length.

Clear skies!

Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, is the author of Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.