July is set to be a good month for stargazers, as Mars will get closer to Earth than it has been in 15 years, making it appear larger and brighter than usual.
The event, known as Mars Close Approach, is thanks to Mars’ and Earth’s orbits around the Sun, which on July 31 will line up so that the Red Planet is 35.8 million away, according to NASA. For much of that night it will be visible to the naked eye. It will appear low in the sky, reaching its highest point of 35 degrees above the southern horizon around midnight.
In the days before Mars Close Approach, between July 27 and 30, the planet will be in opposition with the Sun and will look around three times brighter in our sky than it normally does.
The Red Planet will remain larger than normal when viewed by telescope for a couple of weeks, before fading in mid-August as it moves further away from Earth.
Mars only comes close enough to allow this kind of view every 15 to 17 years. The most recent Mars Close Approach, in 2003, was the closest the planet had been in nearly 60,000 years, at 34.9 million miles away.
Dean Regas, an astronomer at the Cincinatti Observatory, told Mother Nature Network this year’s event would be almost as good as that viewing. “Mars will easily be visible to the naked eye,” he said. “In fact, you will be hard pressed to miss it. It will look like a glowing orange beacon of light rising in the southeast after sunset. It’ll be much brighter than any star, brighter than Jupiter, nearly as bright as Venus. And you’ll see it every night for the next several months.”
Mars won’t be this close again till September 15, 2035.
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