Mars set to make closest approach to Earth in 15 years


On July 31, the planets will be 35.8 million miles apart. In 2003, Mars was 34.6 million miles from Earth.

"Even with bright moonlight, you can't miss Mars", Samuhel said.

Mars will be visible in the sky this week as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 15 years. Just look out for the big red dot. Back in 2003, Mars had come close to our planet and that was an event in which the Red Planet was that close after 60,000 years.

The gravitational pull by other planets also constantly changes the shape of their orbits a little bit, with Jupiter especially influencing the path that Mars takes around the Sun. "As they approach Mars, the protons coming in with the solar wind transform into neutral atoms by stealing electrons from the outer edge of the huge cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet", said Dr. Justin Deighan, from the University of Colorado, Boulder. This is why you will often see Mars missions launching every two years.

If you've noticed a bright red light in the evening sky lately, you're actually not looking at a star, but at Mars.

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Mars will be visible to the naked eye for most of the night.

Starting Friday night, Mars will be at "opposition", which occurs when the Earth lies directly between Mars and the sun, making the sun and Mars appear in opposite directions as viewed from the Earth. Only Venus will appear brighter. In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli claimed to have seen canals on Mars, suggesting there could be possible civilization, or Martians, on the red planet. Astronomers say we should be able to see it throughout early August.

Hubble, one of the largest space telescopes, captured images of dust storms on the Red Planet this summer. On Mars, they are the result of protons, and scientists have just figured out how the events happen. It also coincides with the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century, which will last 1 hour, 43 minutes.

Nasa has said that there is now a dust storm which is affecting the whole planet, so this may make seeing details on Mars a little more hard for astronomers.

The total lunar eclipse on Friday will be visible in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.