On Monday, Mars and Earth will be closest to each other than they have been in 11 years, offering stargazers a spectacular view of the red planet.
Although Mars will be closest to our planet on Monday (47.2 million miles away), it will remain closer than 48 million miles for at least two weeks. It is the first time since 2005 that such an event is occurring.
“Just look southeast after the end of twilight, and you can’t miss it,” senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, Alan MacRobert, said in a statement. “Mars looks almost scary now, compared to how it normally looks in the sky.”
As reported by TIME, a planet revolves around its parent star in a fixed orbit. The Earth takes 365.256 days to make one circle around the Sun. While 365 days is one calendar year, 0.256 is the extra day that we add at the end of the month of February every four years. Meanwhile, the red planet completes one revolution around the sun in 686.93 days.
While the two planets come close to each other every 26 months, the closeness varies every time owing to their elliptical orbits. In 2003, when the red planet was at opposition (a phenomenon where the sun, Earth and Mars are positioned in a straight line), it was closer than what it will be now, according to Space.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao.
Rao added that the event where Mars is closest to our planet and the sun at the same time – known as “perihelic oppositions” of Mars – occurs once every 15 to 17 years. The next one is expected to occur in 2018, when the red planet will be brighter and closer to our planet than this year.
At present, Jupiter will appear brighter than Mars. Although the largest planet in our solar system, currently positioned in the southwest, is farther from the sun than Mars, it is 20 times larger in diameter.
A free live webcast of the event will also be offered by the online Slooh Community Observatory. The webcast will be available starting at 9 p.m. EDT on Slooh.com.