Mars won't be this close or bright again until 2035
This Aug. 26, 2003 image shows Mars as it lines up with the Sun and the Earth. (NASA/J. Bell - Cornell U./M. Wolff)
Published Friday, July 13, 2018 6:00AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 13, 2018 9:29AM EDT
You won’t be able to spot the Mars rover, but by the end of July the red planet will be the closest and brightest it has been in 15 years.
Every two years, Mars completes its orbit around the sun to align with Earth in a straight line on the directly opposite side from the sun, in a position called “opposition.”
This year, the date of alignment is July 27. The bi-annual event occurs every 26 months, but because distances can vary greatly due to the planets’ different elliptical orbital patterns, every 15 or 17 years the opposition occurs closer to the sun. That’s why Mars appears brighter in the sky.
In fact, stargazers won’t see the planet this vibrant and detailed again until 2035.
“This is not an event to miss,” said Paul Delaney, a York University astronomy professor and director of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory. The university will be hosting a “Mars Extravaganza” free public viewing on weeknights, from July 25 to Aug. 1.
Optimal viewing is with scientific telescopes, such as the ones York will have for public use at the observatory. Viewers will be able to see ice caps and surface markings on Mars.
“Everybody has a mind’s eye view of what they’re going to see. It’s nice to put reality to that,” Delaney told CTVNews.ca.
Mars will be about 57 million km away by the end of the month, a little over one million km further than in 2003 when it was the closest it had been in 60,000 years.
But be wary of the “Mars hoax,” said Delaney. That’s the name given to the falsehood that circulated 15 years ago when people were convinced that Mars would appear to the naked eye as large as the full Moon. Not so, Delaney said.
“The little disc (that is Mars) is reasonably large through a telescope,” he said. Don’t expect to see anything awe-inspiring without one. With the naked eye or a set of binoculars, viewers won’t be able to see much at all. You’ll be able to spot the dusty-hued planet since it will be the brightest speck in the sky when twilight ends (when the sun sets in the west, Mars rises in the east) but stick with the experts for the best view.
Naturally, some viewers end up disappointed. “It’s not a Hubble Space Telescope,” said Delaney of common university stargazing tools. There is a higher risk of disappointment this year due to the dust storm on the planet that trapped the Mars rover. The storm could obscure some details.
Still, this summer’s Mars opposition is an opportunity that won’t come along again for a while. For a lot of amateur astronomers, Mars is an impressive sight, Delaney said.
“It becomes a real tangible world to them,” he said.
Come see #Mars for free @YorkUScience @yorkobservatory, July 25 to Aug. 1, from 9 p.m. to midnight, when it will be the closest to Earth in 15 years. #YorkU Prof Paul Delaney & @LassondeSchool Prof John Moores available to discuss what it means https://t.co/B5RbDlV4ee #toronto— York University News (@YorkUnews) July 10, 2018