Just 57.6 million kilometres apart, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in 15 years
A massive dust storm presently engulfing Mars, however, is obscuring surface details normally visible through telescopes.Updated: Jul 31, 2018 14:56 IST
Now’s the time to catch Mars in the night sky.
The red planet is making its closest approach to Earth in 15 years on Tuesday. The two planets will be just 57.6 million kilometres apart.
Last week, Mars was already brighter than usual and will shine even more — and appear bigger — on Tuesday. Astronomers expect good viewing through early August.
A massive dust storm presently engulfing Mars, however, is obscuring surface details normally visible through telescopes. The Martian atmosphere is so full of dust that NASA’s Opportunity rover can’t recharge — not enough sunlight can reach its solar panels — and so it’s been silent since June 10. Flight controllers don’t expect to hear from 14-year-old Opportunity until the storm subsides, and maybe not even then.
The good news about all the Martian dust is that it reflects sunlight, which makes for an even brighter red planet, said Widener University astronomer Harry Augensen.
“It’s magnificent. It’s as bright as an airplane landing light,” Augensen said. “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.” In 2003, Mars and Earth were the closest in nearly 60,000 years — 55.7 million kilometres. NASA said that won’t happen again until 2287.
The next close approach, meanwhile, in 2020, will be 62 million kilometres, according to NASA.
Observatories across the US are hosting Mars-viewing events. Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory will provide a live online view of Mars early Tuesday.
The total lunar eclipse on Friday will be visible in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth and moon line up perfectly, casting Earth’s shadow on the moon. Friday’s will be long, lasting 1 hour and 43 minutes.
First Published: Jul 31, 2018 07:51 IST