Mars makes a great show for skywatchers this month.
For most of October, Mars will be brighter in the night sky than anything else in its vicinity, providing people with a clear view of the red planet. Mars is also days away from reaching the “opposition,” a celestial alignment in which Earth, Mars and the Sun form a straight line in space, with Earth in the middle.
Mars will be in opposition to October 13th. On that day, Mars will rise with sunset, peak in the night sky at midnight, and then set at sunrise again. If the night is clear, sky watchers can expect the Red Planet to outrun anything else in its region of the sky.
Mars interceptions usually occur every 26 months. Since the Earth is closer to the Sun, it orbits the star approximately twice the time it takes Mars to complete one orbit. The conflicts can occur at any point in Mars’ orbit, according to NASA, but sometimes the alignment occurs around the time Mars is closer to the sun, as is the case this year.
Mars reached the point in its orbit when it was closest to the Sun – an orbital event known as perihelion – on August 3. When it aligns with the Sun and Earth after several weeks, it is known as “perihelion oppositions.” These events are rare because they only occur once every 15 or 17 years. According to NASA.
The best way to see Mars is to get out in the early evening and look over the horizon at the eastern sky. If the conditions were clear, then Mars would be the brightest object in that region of the sky, and would appear as a reddish-orange “star”.
Mars will be visible with the naked eye for most of October, but amateur astronomers with telescopes may also be able to peek at features on the planet’s surface.
Mars took its closest approach to Earth on October 6, when the two planets were separated by only 38.6 million miles. According to NASA. This will not pass near Earth again until 2035.
For observers of the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, this year’s opposition is expected to be particularly impressive due to Mars’ position in the sky.
“In fact, Mars will not be relatively close and a good location for northern observers again until it reaches the opposition in 2052, which makes this year’s opposition even more noteworthy,” said Gary Sironik, advisory editor for Sky & Telescope, He said in a statement.