July 23 – August 5, 2018
Mount Washington — The culmination of an extraordinary celestial event is underway.* Look to the southeast at nightfall: A glowing golden orb rising above the skyline will bewilder you if you have not seen planet Mars recently. Distinctly yellowish and shining at a magnitude of -2.75 today, Mars reaches greatest brilliance (-2.78m) from the 26th through the 28th, Thursday through Saturday, when the planet’s orbit brings it closest to both the Earth and to the Sun. To fully appreciate the impression of the planet, see it before the Full Thunder Moon approaches toward the end of the week. Study the illustrations.
The significance of this Mars perihelion and opposition** is best stated by the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO): “The 2018 perihelic [peri=around, helios=sun] apparition of Mars will prove to be one of the most favorable since the 2003 apparition when the red planet came closest to Earth in 59,635 years (the year 57,617 B.C.).” Take a breath and look again. The next best opportunity will be in 2035.
Usually referred to, and seen, as the “red planet,” the current yellow color is the result of dust storms obscuring the planet’s surface. View Mars from nightfall to first light. It is particularly lovely as it sinks into the hills to the southwest. I have observed it looking pinkish recently at 4:30 a.m.
Mars’ intensity gradually decreases through the month of August. Among the planets visible with the naked eye during this apparition, Mars is brighter than Jupiter (-2.15m) and Saturn (0.15m); it is second only to Venus (-4.16m).
Mars is so bright that it is visible even under light-polluted skies. To restore the Milky Way to our picture of the night sky—a nod to Jose Luis Hernandez Verdejo—we must cease to degrade our environment with light pollution. It is possible to bring back the Milky Way to everyone’s sky if we vote for it. Please respond to the following notice:
Time Sensitive Call to Action: Support the Dark-Sky amendment to combat light pollution in Massachusetts
Background: The Massachusetts House and Senate have passed two different versions of the 2018 environmental bond bill, aka “An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity.”
Urge Conference Committee members to preserve Sen. Creem’s amendment, S.2591 #142, “Enhance Dark Sky, reduce roadway glare, and protect animal habitat.” Details of the amendment available.
Call/email — this is a pioneering effort
Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, 4th Berkshire, (617) 722-2210, Rep. Donald Berthiaume, 5th Worcester, (774) 402-4742 (legislative aid), Rep. David Nangle, 17th Middlesex, (617) 722-2520, David.Nangle@mahouse.gov
Sen. Anne Gobi, Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex, (617) 722-1540, Sen. Donald Humason, 2nd Hampden and Hampshire, (617) 722-1415, Sen. William Brownsberger, (617) 722-1280,
Resources — Dark Sky awareness and Mars Opposition, Perihelion
International Dark Sky Association – http://darksky.org/
Fading Milky Way – https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast01nov_1/