July has definitely been an amazing month for sky watchers, putting on two spectacular celestial displays during its final days. After the rare “Blood Moon” on July 27-28, which North America, unfortunately, didn’t get a chance to witness outside of media coverage, now comes Mars’ close encounter with our planet, the closest one in the last 15 years.
Ever since its opposition on July 27, which coincided with the “Blood Moon” and saw Mars align with the sun on opposite sides of Earth, the red planet has been inching its way closer to us, appearing increasingly brighter in the night’s sky.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, Mars is currently traveling on the part of its orbit that brings it farther from the sun and closer to our planet. After covering almost 210,000 miles a day to get here, the red planet will be moving into perigee at 3:40 a.m. EDT on July 31 — the orbital point nearest to Earth and farthest from the sun, notes WSB-TV.
This will be the closest that Mars has been to Earth in 15 years and will bring the red planet at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) from our planet, the Inquisitr reported at the end of June.
What does this mean for stargazers? Well, for starters, a great chance to spot Mars with the naked eye.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the red planet will be five times brighter than usual — its most dazzling appearance since 2003, when it popped by even closer than it’s expected to come this year.
According to Channel 3000, Mars will be clearly visible in the southern sky and will even outshine Jupiter, being twice as bright as the gas giant — a noteworthy “celestial feat.”
The best time to spot it is just after sunset, with CBC recommending 10 p.m. as the optimum viewing hour. Grabbing a pair of binoculars will grant you an even better view, although it takes a telescope to show you the details of the red planet.
As Popular Science points out, Mars will be coming so close to our planet that “under normal circumstances, even amateur astronomers would be able to see features of the surface through telescopes.” This year, however, the red planet is obscured by a global dust storm, as reported by the Inquisitr. The massive dust clouds that are now encompassing the planet are hiding a lot of Mars’ main features.
The images below, captured by the Hubble two years apart while Mars was nearing opposition, reveal what the red planet currently looks like through a telescope, now that it’s covered in a veil of dust.
Nevertheless, the planet-wide dust storm is luckily beginning to subside, Space.com reported on Friday, which means that we’re finally going to get a clearer view of our planetary neighbor during the upcoming weeks.
Mars and Earth are typically 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) apart. While this is the average distance between the two planets, they can be up to 250 million miles (401 million kilometers) from one another.
This makes tomorrow’s astronomical event all the more impressive. During Mars’ last close approach, which occurred on August 27, 2003, the red planet came closer than it had been in nearly 60,000 years, buzzing Earth from a distance of 34.6 million miles (55.8 million kilometers).
While you really don’t want to miss Mars’s close approach on Tuesday, you won’t have to wait too long for the planet to come waltzing back near Earth’s orbit. According to NASA, the next close encounter with the red planet is expected to take place on October 6, 2020.