If you like to get out and gaze at the night sky, you might have spotted a bright red star. That’s not a star – it’s Mars. The Red Planet will be by the end of July the closest it has been in 15 years, and it shines brightly.
It takes Mars two years to complete its orbit around the sun and align with our planet in a position called “opposition,” where Earth and Mars are on a straight line on the opposite side from the sun. The alignment will take place on 27 July. However, this year’s event is special. The distance between Earth and Mars differs because of the difference in each one’s elliptical orbital patterns. As a result, every 15-17 years, the opposition occurs closer to the sun, making Mars appear brighter in the sky.
This means that stargazers will get to see the event again in 2035.
The director of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory, Paul Delaney, who is also a York University astronomy professor, said:
“This is not an event to miss.”
The University will host a free public viewing on weeknights called “Mars Extravaganza,” offering access to scientific telescopes, where viewers can see the surface markings on Mars and its ice caps. The event starts on July 25 and lasts until August 1.
Delaney explains that they want to show people how Mars looks:
“Everybody has a mind’s eye view of what they’re going to see. It’s nice to put reality to that.”
Back in 2003 Mars was the closest to our planet than it had been in 60,000 years. This year, the Red Planet will be at a distance of almost 57 million km – a million km further than in 2003.
Delaney explains that Mars can be seen larger through the telescope, but with binoculars or the naked eye, it will only be a bright speck on the night sky:
“The little disc (that is Mars) is reasonably large through a telescope.”
However, you can see the bright red speck when the sun sets, as Mars will rise in the east. Even a small bright point in the sky, Delaney concludes that amateur astronomers will surely be pleased to see it:
“It becomes a real tangible world to them.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.