Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com
MARS OPPOSITION . FULL MOON and ECLIPSE .
In the Martian opposition, on the 27th, Mars is aligned with the Sun with Earth right in the middle. This alignment causes Mars to be very close to us, and to rise in the east just as the sun sets, and then remain out all night long.
Friday night also happens to be the full Moon of July. So the dazzling orange planet and the full Moon will hover together Friday night. Could finding it be any easier? This is a great time to check out the Red Planet, especially if you’re a beginner sky gazer.
The very closest approach of Mars actually unfolds four nights later, Tuesday night, July 31. Technically it’ll be a hair brighter then, but nobody will notice the difference. Either night finds Mars brighter than even Jupiter, which does NOT happen very often. You can actually be lackadaisical and look for Mars anytime this entire next month. But don’t ignore it. It hasn’t come this close to us since 2003, and won’t again approach this nearby for another 17 years.
: In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. Well, Earth meets up with Mars every 26 months, but when that happens, the gap between our orbits can be as wide as 70 million miles or as narrow as half that. So happens, July is when Earth is always farthest from the Sun and thus potentially closer to Mars. And August is when Mars is closest to the Sun and hence unusually near to us. Thus a summertime opposition offers the best close-up meeting between our two worlds.
HOW TO VIEW MARS
At opposition, the Red Planet will line up with the Sun and rise just as the Sun sets on the horizon. Look for the Red Planet ascending in the southeastern skies, creeping up towards the Moon, then moving across the sky during the night.
After Venus sets in the West at around 10 p.m., Mars is actually the brightest star in the entire sky for the rest of the night. Plus it’s distinctly orange-yellow. You just can’t miss it.
But if you were trying to miss it, you couldn’t succeed on Friday night because it’s that brilliant orange star next to the Moon. And it will remain the most brilliant starlike object for most of the night for the remainder of the summer.
So, what to do with Mars? It’s not an easy telescope target because even now, Mars has a small disc about half the width of Jupiter, which requires a fair amount of magnification, which in turns magnifies any wiggles in the air. Bottom line: It usual appears smudgy through telescopes, though it’s definitely worth a shot on slightly hazy nights when stars are not twinkling.
But just staring at it with the naked eye may offer the most satisfying and certainly the most venerable way to salute this unusually close approach of the Red Planet.
Mars at opposition coincides with a magnificent total lunar eclipse and so-called Blood Moon on the 27th. It’s not visible in North America