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Mars, moon, and star form brilliant sky triangle tonight

The moon, Mars and the star Regulus will combine to form a very bright triple play Tuesday night.

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This sky map shows the location of Mars, the moon and the bright star Regulus at 9 p.m. ET on April 3 to observers at mid-northern latitudes.

Starry Night

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As the evening twilight deepens around 8:30 p.m. local time Tuesday night (April 3), check out the southeast sky. Weather permitting, a waxing gibbous moon will be shining bright, but it won't be alone.

Situated well above the moon will be two bright "stars." I've placed the word stars in quote marks, because one of those stars is in reality a planet: the so-called Red Planet, Mars.

The planet will form a cosmic triangle with the moon, Mars and bright star Regulus. The arrangement can be seen in the sky map of Mars accompanying this planet viewing guide.

Fading Mars

A month ago, Mars came to opposition with the sun and two days later arrived at its closest point to the Earth in 2012, a distance of 62.6 million miles (100.7 million kilometers). Since then, Mars has been receding from us and correspondingly has faded. 

On Tuesday, Mars will be 70.7 million miles (113.8 million km) away, but will still appear to shine brilliantly. Only the moon, Venus, Jupiter and the stars Sirius and Canopus rank higher in brightness. But Mars is now shining at about 70 percent of the radiance it had a month ago and its fade-down will become even more apparent in the coming weeks. 

One month from now, it will shine only about half as bright as it does now. And if you look carefully at Mars, you'll see that in spite of its popular "Red Planet" moniker, its true color leans closer toward yellow-orange. 

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