Mars is hosting a show for sky watchers this month.
For most of October, Mars will be brighter in the night sky than anything else in its vicinity, giving people a clear view of the red planet. Mars is also within days of reaching “opposition”, a celestial alignment in which Earth, Mars and the sun form a straight line in space, with the Earth at the center.
Mars will be in opposition on October 13. On that day, Mars will rise at sunset, reach its peak in the night sky at midnight, and then set when the sun rises again. If it is a clear night, sky watchers can expect the red planet to obscure everything else in its region of the sky.
Oppositions from Mars typically occur every 26 months. Since the Earth is closer to the Sun, it circles the star twice roughly in the time it takes Mars to complete one orbit. Oppositions can occur anywhere in Mars̵
Mars reached the point in its orbit where it was closest to the sun – an orbital event known as perihelion – on August 3. When it aligns with the sun and the Earth several weeks later, it is known as “perihelic oppositions”. These events are considered 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 just above the horizon into the eastern sky. If conditions are clear, Mars will be the brightest object in that region of the sky, appearing as a distinct red-orange “star”.
Mars will be visible to the naked eye for most of October, but even amateur astronomers with telescopes may be able to glimpse features on the planet’s surface.
Mars made its closest approach to Earth on October 6, when the two planets were separated by only 38.6 million miles, according to NASA. It won’t pass that close to Earth again until 2035.
For sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere, this year’s opposition is expected to be particularly impressive due to Mars’ position in the sky.
“Indeed, Mars will not be any closer and well positioned for northern observers until it catches up with the opposition in 2052, making this year’s opposition even more noteworthy,” Gary Seronik said in a statement. , consultant editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.