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
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The Griffith Observatory’s All Space Considered team will live stream broadcast the Mars Close Approach on Tuesday, July 31 from 12midnight – 4am CDT. [A free public Mars viewing event will also take place on the grounds of the Griffith Observatory – Find information → here]
Programming Note: Sometimes it happens — scheduling changes or technical interruptions in the live broadcast. Please check back for live action updates, and take a look at the Live Stream Program Guidefor more On2In2™ streaming info.
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)