Both Earth and Mars orbit the Sun in elliptical (egg-shaped) paths that are slightly tilted to each other and constantly changing because of gravitational pull by planets, and that causes our view of Mars in the sky to constantly change.
A ‘Mars Close Approach’ is when Mars comes nearest to Earth as the two planets orbit, making Mars appear brighter and easier to see with telescopes or the naked eye. The good viewing opportunity of a Mars Close Approach happens about every 26 months, with exceptional viewing only once or twice every 15 or 17 years and the very closest approach comes about rarely.
On August 27, 2003, Mars and Earth were closer than they’d been in almost 60,000 years (34,646,418 miles/55,758,006 km), and that won’t happen again until August 28, 2287.
There’s a chance for good views of Mars in July and August 2018 – the best since 2003. Mars will appear brightest from July 27 – 31, with Mars Close Approach (35.8 million miles/57.6 million km) on July 31, 2018 when it will be visible for much of the night. Mars will become fainter by mid-August as Earth and Mars travel farther away from each other in their orbits around the Sun. The next Mars Close Approach will happen on October 6, 2020.
Mars Close Approach to Earth, Mars in Our Night Sky (NASA Mars Exploration)
Astronomy Essentials – How to find Mars in the Night Sky (Earth Sky July guide to bright planets) Starting in early July, both Saturn and Mars will rise in the southeast sky after nightfall, with Mars rising about 2 hours after Saturn. The better views are around midnight because the planets are higher in the sky. Mars has a reddish color and Saturn looks golden. Binoculars or a telescope help show the colors.
What’s Up July 2018, NASA guide for what to see in the sky
“The choice to me is absolutely clear. There is no other choice than to commit to Mars.” —Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot
Does life exist on Mars? NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars orbit by the 2030s. Two private ventures also have sights set on Mars — SpaceX wants to go by 2024, and Mars One wants to establish a human settlement there.
Vanderbilt University professor, Dr. David A. Weintraub tells the story of our quest to find an answer in his book, Life On Mars: What to Know Before We Go*, and discusses the challenges and responsibilities facing us as we prepare to send humans to there. [*You can check out Dr. Weintraub’s book by clicking on this link to Amazon. Zeester Media LLC may receive a small commission for a book purchase you make via the link. This in no way affects the price you pay for the purchase.]
If you missed Dr. Weintraub’s “All Space Considered” talk at Griffith Observatory on August 3, 2018, there’s still time to watch a video recording. Just click/tap the “Watch Again” button on the media player below ↓
If you missed seeing Mars Close Approach during the early morning hours of July 31, 2018, you can watch a Griffith Observatory video recording of this amazing event. Just click/tap the “Watch Again” button on the media player below ↓
A retrospective look and amazing images of Saturn
Great tips and information for finding the best night sky locations, astronomy events, festivals, star parties and workshops
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Feature photo of Mars: On May 12, 2016, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured this striking image of Mars, when the planet was 50 million miles from Earth. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)