Mars makes closest approach to Earth in 15 years this weekend

Mars makes closest approach to Earth in 15 years this weekend

Mars makes closest approach to Earth in 15 years this weekend

The Red Planet begins to brighten discernibly in June as the gap closes, and it will turn on an exceptional show for sky watchers from Jul 27 to 30. Although 15 years might not sound like a particularly long time to some, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre astronomer Kat Kelly assures it will be a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity for many based on the next time the two planets will be this close to one another.

Mars Close Approach takes place about every 26 months, but since Earth and Mars don't have perfectly circular orbits, the shortest distance between the planets isn't always the same for each close approach.

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If the weather does not cooperate for stargazers, there should still be plenty of opportunities to see the planet in the coming weeks. And on Friday, Mars will be in opposition. During opposition, Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth, so Mars will rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west and vice versa, according to NASA. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers).

The red planet is easily visible with the naked eye, but folks with a telescope may be able to see some details of the planet, including the planet's ice caps. "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. Now, the MAVEN team has learned that protons were doing at Mars the same thing as electrons usually do at Earth-create aurora.

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NASA plans to release on Friday what scientists say will be stunning new images of Mars taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. "Not quite as bright as Venus, but still because of the reddish, orange-ish-red color, you really can't miss it in the sky".

The planet's closest approach to Earth occurred in 2003 when the two planets drew within 34.6 million miles, the closest approach in almost 60,000 years. NASA said that won't happen again until 2287.

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This summer, opposition occurs July 27, or overnight Thursday into early Friday morning. It willl only be visible to some parts of the world, including Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

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