Home / Science / Mars Opposition: Mars is closer to Earth in October 2020 than it will be for another 15 years: how to see the red planet

Mars Opposition: Mars is closer to Earth in October 2020 than it will be for another 15 years: how to see the red planet

If you saw a fiery red star near the full moon earlier this month, it was actually Mars shining its bright red light in the night sky.

The planet will be visible at night throughout the month of October, reaching its highest point in the sky around midnight each evening. It will shine in the east every evening and in the west before dawn.

But Mars doesn’t always make an appearance like this. So why does Mars shine so brightly?

The red planet came closest to Earth at 10:18 am ET on Oct. 6. Mars was 38,586,816 miles from Earth – yes, it is close to Mars – and it will not be that close until 2035. Mars in 2003 made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years, coming within a range of 34.65 million miles.

SEE ALSO: Beware the Halloween Full Moon, Orionid Meteor Shower, and Bright Mars in the Sky this October

This week, the Earth will oscillate between Mars and the sun.

This event, called the Mars opposition, occurs on October 1

3, when it will be directly on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, according to NASA.

Mars and Earth do not orbit the sun in perfect circles or even on the same plane. Instead, the planets have elliptical orbits in the shape of ovals.

For example, while the Earth takes only 365 days to complete one orbit around the sun, Mars takes 687 days. As the Earth approaches the sun, Mars moves away from it.

Currently, NASA’s Perseverance rover is darting into space and about to land on Mars in February 2021. It is one of several missions en route to Mars, including the UAE’s Hope probe and China’s Tianwen-1.

Perserverance was launched on July 30, specifically within a time frame that would allow for faster travel between Earth and Mars when they are aligned on the same side of the sun.

Watch for Venus, Jupiter and Saturn

In addition to beautifully bright Mars, look for other planets that light up the sky.

Venus, which is the third brightest object in the night sky after the sun and moon, is even brighter than Mars – it only appears in the morning.

Mars reigns supreme in the night sky right now, and Venus displays its brightness in the eastern morning sky, according to EarthSky, a non-profit organization and astronomy website.

Mars is even overtaking Jupiter throughout October.

But once Mars fades out of sight, Jupiter will be one of the brightest objects in the evening sky and Saturn will also be visible east of Jupiter.

This is due to a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The two largest planets in our solar system are having a rare encounter that occurs every 20 years.

The conjunction officially occurs on December 21, 2020, but both planets are now visible in close proximity to each other and will be in the night sky for the rest of the year.

Jupiter overtakes the stars, while Saturn emits a brilliant golden glow.

During the last great conjunction in 2000, the two giant planets were close to the sun from our perspective on Earth, making them difficult to see.

The reason this conjunction is rare is due to the orbits of these giant planets: Jupiter takes 12 Earth years to complete one orbit around the sun and Saturn takes 30 years.

And every 20 years, Jupiter reaches Saturn from our perspective on Earth.

So take advantage of this rare opportunity to see both close together in the night sky.

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Video via AccuWeather

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