Mars is doing quite a few shows this month for sky watchers.
During most of October, Mars is brighter in the night sky than anything else around it, allowing people to see the red planet clearly. Mars also takes a few days for Earth, Mars, and the Sun to reach a straight line in space and “opposite”, the celestial alignment with Earth in the middle.
Mars will be on the other side on October 13. On that day, Mars rises at sunset, peaks in the night sky at midnight, then sets when the sun rises again. On a clear night, those looking to the sky can expect the red planet to shine more than anything else in the sky.
Mars opposition usually occurs every 26 months. Since Earth is closer to the Sun, Mars orbits the star twice in the approximate time it takes to complete one orbit. The opposite can occur at any point in Mars’ orbit, according to NASA, but alignment sometimes occurs when Mars is closest to the Sun, such as this year.
Mars reached its closest orbit to the Sun on August 3rd (orbital event known as perihelion). Mars is known as “opposite around” when it is in line with the Sun and Earth a few weeks later. These events are considered rare because they occur only once every 15 or 17 years. According to NASA.
The best way to see Mars is to go outside in the early evening and look right above the horizon in the eastern sky. When conditions are clear, Mars becomes the brightest object in that area of the sky, appearing as a distinct reddish-orange “star”.
Mars can be seen with the naked eye most of the time of October, but even amateur astronomers with telescopes can glimpse the features of the planet’s surface.
Mars was closest to Earth on October 6, with the two planets just 38.6 million miles away. According to NASA. It will not pass close to Earth again until 2035.
For Skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere, this year’s opposition is expected to be impressive, especially because of Mars’ position in the sky.
“In fact, Mars won’t be relatively close and in good position for northern observers until opposition is reached in 2052, and it will make this year’s opposition even more remarkable,” said Gary Seronik, consulting editor for Sky & Telescope magazine, Said in a statement.