If you look at the sky tonight and spot a very bright star, it may well be a planet. Mars is the closest it has been to Earth for 15 years – and therefore the brightest.
“Mars shines through reflected light,” says Robert Massey, the deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“That means that when it’s closer to the Earth it appears brighter, because its apparent size is bigger.” It won’t be this visible again until 2035.
So, how best to see it? First, make sure tall trees or buildings are not obscuring the view. Ideally, you want a clear horizon. Then, look south.
“It will be obvious, because it’s bright, it doesn’t twinkle and it has a distinct reddish tinge,” says Massey, who suggests Somerset, Devon and Dorset as good locations for spotting it.
The best Mars-gazing time is 1am, but it rises earlier in the evening.
“You can see Mars with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars would help,” says Massey. “If you have a small telescope, you may be lucky to see a polar ice cap.”
If you are an amateur with good equipment, the details to look out for are two polar ice caps, mountains or volcanoes, and sunken, crater-like features. Massey suggests contacting your local astronomical society about public viewing events.
When is the best time to see Mars?
According to NASA, Mars Opposition begins Friday, July 27 around midnight.
Mars will be visible between Friday, July 27 and Monday, July 30, making its closest approach — 35.8 million miles to be exact — on Tuesday, July 31 at around 4 a.m. E.T.
Mars will be at its brightest Friday night due to an opposition surge that is affected by the planet’s angle of the sun — giving you the clearest view of the Red Planet.
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