We are all presented with a chance to witness a rare event, as on July 31 Mars will reach the point in its orbit with the shortest distance to Earth in 15 years. Astronomer James Durbano from Big Sky Astronomical Society has given us some tips on how we can observe the Red Planet on this very special night.
In 2003 Mars made its closest approach to Earth in thousands of years
The last time we were able to view this very rare event called “Mars Close Approach” was back in 2003, when on August 28 our planet’s neighbor was only 55.76 million kilometers away from Earth. According to EarthSky, it was the shortest distance between us and the Red Planet in about 60,000 years.
An event that we cannot afford to miss
Today, almost 15 years since that last very close approach, Mars is making its another similarly close approach. The distance between Earth and the Red Planet will be as short as 57.6 million kilometers, which is relatively close on the scale of our solar system. Thanks to NASA, we know that this kind of event, when the two planets are as close as now, will not happen again before 2287, therefore we simply cannot miss it. The next time we are going to see Mars from not too far will be in 2020, but still, the distance between us and the Red Planet will be 62.07 million kilometers, so much further than now.
How to observe the close approach of Mars
According to NASA, Mars will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight, when we will be able to see it approximately 35 degrees above the southern horizon. From July 27 to July 30 we were able to see the planet at its brightest, but tonight the visibility will not be much worse. However, the Red Planet will slowly start moving away from Earth and by the middle of August it will be much fainter.