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Mars Will Be Closest To Earth Than It Has Ever Been Since 2003

Jun 18, 2018 12:25 AM EDT
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Astronauts are trying to get to Mars, but the Red Planet is actually venturing nearer to Earth — enough to be visible to the naked eye.

Sky enthusiasts will be out in the coming weeks as experts say Mars is set to be the brightest it has been in over a decade.

Mars Gets Close

According to the Weather Channel, Mars' orbit will be away from Earth at a distance of just 35.8 million miles.

While it's not quite as intimate as 2003's flyby — the two planets' closest encounter in 60,000 years at 34.9 million miles away — the next coming weeks will still yield an incredible glimpse of the Red Planet.

Astronomer Dean Regas from the Cincinnati Observatory tells Mother Nature Network that the upcoming pass will nearly be as stunning as the ultra-close opposition 15 years ago.

"Mars will easily be visible to the naked eye," Regas promises. "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' Visibility From Earth

While the two planets' orbits are next to each other, their journeys along their respective orbits can make the distance between the Earth and Mars very different. When they're at opposite ends of their orbits, the two planets can be impossibly far apart. Other times, such as 2003 and 2018, the orbits can take them very near each other.

Most of the time, the much farther Jupiter outshines Mars due to the giant's sheer size. Venus is always the brightest object in the sky when it's up, but when it sets, Jupiter usually takes its place as the most visible star in the sky. However, Mars will be in the spotlight for a couple of weeks in July and August.

Step out of the house to spot Mars in the sky in the following weeks — even sans a telescope. It is expected to be brightest in the hours before sunrise of Tuesday, July 31.

Better catch this phenomenon this year. After all, next time the Earth's neighbor Mars will get this close is on September 2035. By this time, Regas suggests, the Mars exploration could already be several steps forward.

"Maybe, just maybe we will have sent a manned mission to Mars just before that opposition," he points out, wondering if it's possible that the world would be anticipating other humans to get to Mars at this point in the future.

For now, sky watchers will have to be content to spot Mars from a distance.

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