CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Earth and Mars will be separated by a mere 39 million miles tonight, their closest pairing until 2035. The red planet will look much brighter and telescopically, will appear much bigger.
Here’s why: As seen in the first illustration, courtesy of Sky & Telescope, six months ago, Earth and Mars were aligned in a disjointed fashion, relative to the Sun:
Tonight, they’ll be in opposition, meaning Earth will be situated directly BETWEEN Mars and the Sun. As a result, Mars will rise just as the Sun is setting this evening and set tomorrow morning, just as the Sun is rising. It will appear much brighter than usual tonight and under clear-sky forecast, will be quite visible, even to the naked eye.
Here’s what to do if you want to see: Simply step outdoors during the early evening and face due EAST. The planet will appear as a bright, pale-orange star just above the horizon, rising through the evening hours. By midnight, Mars will be high in the southern sky and easy to pick out.
A telescope isn’t necessary but will help if you want to pick out small details.
And by the way, you may read elsewhere on the internet that “Mars will appear as a big as the full Moon in the sky." Well, that would be fake news. That hoax pops up with every Mars opposition, which on average, occurs every 780 days.
To the unaided eye, Mars always looks like a reddish star, nowhere near the size of the moon. But if you look at the Red Planet at this opposition through a telescope at a magnification of about 80x, it will appear about the same angular size in your field of vision as the Moon does to the naked eye. This means that you can see about as much detail on Mars through a telescope as you can see on the Moon with just your eyes.
Happy star gazing!
- Meteorologist Al Conklin