Mars, our second closest cosmic cousin, has been in our collective imagination for decades. Between fantasies of Martian visits and the promise of water beneath its frozen surface, Mars doesn’t need to do much to be in our good collective books.
But very soon, Mars will not only be close to our hearts, but also closer to our current planet, just 62.1 million kilometers (38.6 million miles) from Earth.
This is as close as possible for the next 15 years. And it means stargazing is highly recommended as Mars will be bright, large, and easy to see with or without a telescope.
We recommend checking a sky map to figure out where Mars will be in the night sky at your location so that you can plan for the best view.
But the good news is that it will be in a region of the night sky with very few stars, and if you̵
The day we will be closest to Mars ever is October 6th, so get moving.
As you can see in this video below, Mars and Earth are both in slightly elliptical orbits, meaning they can occasionally get very close to each other.
The closest possible encounter is when the Earth is furthest from the Sun (aphelion) and Mars is closest to the Sun (perihelion). At this point the two would be at least 54.6 million kilometers (33.9 million miles) apart.
This configuration is called opposition and occurs approximately every two years. But we never actually registered reaching that perfect “closest” point.
The closest approach we’ve ever recorded came in 2003, with just 55.7 million kilometers separating us from Mars. Two years ago, 2018 was pretty close too, with only 57.6 million kilometers (35.8 million miles) between us.
Unfortunately, however, we are moving further and further away from alignment with our closest neighbor and will not begin to approach again until 2029, culminating in a very close approach in 2035 – just 56.9 million kilometers (35, 4 million miles) away – so start planning your Mars observation schedule for 2035 well in advance!
At the other end of the scale from an opposition is a conjunction, when the two planets are farthest from each other. They can end up 401 million kilometers (250 miles) away from each other. This occurs when the Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun and both are in their aphelion.
It is for this reason that space organizations take advantage of the short distance between our planets when these windows present themselves. This year has been a prime opportunity for many missions to the Red Planet.
If you remember, Mars One had planned to launch a lander to Mars in 2020 before doing so, it never did.
But three missions took off successfully. NASA’s Perseverance rover is nearly halfway through its journey to the red planet after departing in July, while two other missions have left for Mars in the same two-week window.
The next batch of Mars missions – like Mars Sample Return – will travel in 2022, but they will have to travel another 20 million kilometers, as we will be within 81.5 million kilometers (50.6 million miles) of our approach. closer during this period.
So this week is a pretty special opportunity that we won’t have until 2035. Make sure you greet Mars as it passes by!