Brightest Mars in years
Right now is just about the best time this year to view the planet Mars in the night sky. Mars and Earth have different year lengths, so there are times when Earth passes close to Mars and times when Earth is on the opposite side of the sun from Mars.
The best viewing times for Mars are when the two planets make their closest orbital pass, a position called opposition, which will occur this year on April 8.
Right now Mars is rising in the East at just about sunset for most people and can be viewed there starting around sunset.
Because of how the planets migrate in their orbits and the fact that the orbits aren’t circular, Mars is actually getting closer to Earth with each opposition pass right now; Mars will be 0.05 AU closer to Earth than it was at the last opposition in 2012 – a difference that probably can’t be recognized with the eye but which is easily measured. In 2018, Mars will pass only 0.386 AU from the Earth – at the time it will be almost twice as large as it appears from Earth now.
Image credit: NASA