Published: Sat, July 28, 2018
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Mars making closest approach to Earth in 15 years

Mars making closest approach to Earth in 15 years

The next approach is on Oct 6, 2020. Mars and Earth will be about 57.6 million km away from each other on July 27. In 2003, Mars was 34.6 million miles from Earth.

It will be easy to spot Mars on Thursday night, not only because it will be shining brightly, but also because it will be sitting just below the almost full moon.

To find Mars, look to the southeastern sky around 11 p.m. Astronomers measure the night sky in degrees - the horizon is at zero, directly overhead is at 90 degrees.

Mars will be at its brightest appearance since 2003 when Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years.

Every 26 months or so, Mars swings by Earth at varying distances as both planets make elliptical orbits around the sun.

The size of the red planet hasn't actually changed, but where it is in its orbit has lessened the distance between it and Earth, making it appear bigger to us Earthlings as it gets closer.

Mars has been growing bigger and brighter in the night sky in 2018 and it will reach its peak on Thursday night, bringing the best opportunity to view the Red Planet since 2003.

Mars will be visible to the naked eye for most of the night.

A massive dust storm is presently engulfing Mars, obscuring surface details normally visible through telescopes. Only Venus will appear brighter. That same day, parts of the world will see a total lunar eclipse.

"It will appear to be a very bright orange star and you'll be able to watch it creep across the sky", said Kelly.

On Earth, the Northern and Southern lights occur when the solar wind (electrically charged particles from the Sun) follow our planet's geomagnetic field lines to the poles and collide with the upper atmosphere. Areas from the Plains to the West would have the best view of Mars as it passes Earth.

Hubble, one of the largest space telescopes, captured images of dust storms on the Red Planet this summer.

The blood moon will be the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century and will occur just after 9pm United Kingdom time on Friday July 27.

The total lunar eclipse on Friday will be visible in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

Nasa has said that there is now a dust storm which is affecting the whole planet, so this may make seeing details on Mars a little more hard for astronomers.

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