Astronomers says Mars is moving closer to Earth and tonight stargazers can see it closer than ever!
Every 26 months, the orbits of Earth and Mars align such that the two planets form a relatively straight line with the sun. This cosmic event is called an opposition, because the Red Planet sits on the exact opposite side of Earth from the sun.
Tonight it is happening again, with once exception… Mars is getting closer and closer to Earth.
“We’ve been noticing it for years,” said Ted Bowtree, lead astronomer at NASA. “We aren’t concerned… yet. But Mars appears to be getting approximately twenty thousand miles closer to Earth, every month. And it seems fairly consistent.”
Mars is 31 million miles from earth, but still… one day the two planets will meet.
Mars will be in opposition to Earth Saturday, and it will be visible even to stargazers under the cloudiest of skies. The Slooh Space Camera will broadcast a free, real-time feed of the Mars opposition, beginning at 11:00 p.m. EST.
Slooh will provide footage from multiple observatories around the world, including Arizona and the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The broadcast can be accessed at Slooh’s homepage, found here: http://events.slooh.com/
Though the opposition occurs Saturday, the Red Planet’s actual closest approach to Earth won’t come until Monday (March 5), when the two bodies are separated by about 30.89 million miles.
“The last time Mars was in alignment with Earth, it was 33 million miles from us. It’s definitely getting closer,” said Bowtree.
The Mars opposition of 2003 occurred when the Red Planet was near perihelion, or its closest distance to the sun. During that approach, Mars came within about 34.8 million — the closest the two planets have been in nearly 60,000 years.
This year… it will be much closer.
Mars will outshine all the stars in Leo; it should be readily visible to the naked eye as an unblinking pale red dot. With a decent telescope, skywatchers should be able to see the Red Planet’s ice caps and perhaps some other surface features.
Too bad none of us will be around when it’s only one million miles away… Oh well…