Paulette Haws captured the planet Mars on Monday evening, Sept. 21, 2020, when the planet’s magnitude was -2.30. In this photo, Mars is shining above, and reflected in, Little Tupper Lake in New York state. Photo courtesy EarthSky.org

EYES TO THE SKY: Planet Mars will surprise you

The rusty-gold orb reaches rather high in the sky at midnight and then drops to set in the west as the sun rises in the east.

Mount Washington — A rusty-gold, star-like celestial body shines suspended above the eastern skyline at nightfall. It is heaven’s celebrity of the month. Even though I knew that planet Mars is predicted to be in the east shortly after sunset, a rush of surprise overcame me when, approaching a clearing, the planet’s brilliant light pierced the darkness. Mars is brightest for the year in Earth’s skies. Tomorrow, the 6th, it will orbit closest to our planet since 2018 and arrive at “opposition” on the 13th.

Mars reaches opposition, as in this artist’s illustration, when it is opposite from the sun in Earth’s sky. Image courtesy NASA

According to Simulation Curriculum’s Starry Night 7 software, the red planet’s magnitude ranges from -2.56 tonight to a maximum of -2.62 on the 11th and 12th. By the 18th, Mars’ magnitude drops to -2.52 and continues to decrease, but is still quite bright until the end of October. Mars’ 2018 maximum was -2.78, and in 2003 it was -2.88 m. Note that the red planet’s maximum magnitude seen from Earth is -2.92.

Artist’s concept of the orbits of Earth and Mars. Image courtesy EarthSky.org via NASA

“During the Mars opposition in 2003, the Red Planet was only 34.6 million miles … from Earth. This was the closest the two planets had come to each other in almost 60,000 years, and this record won’t be broken until Aug. 28, 2287, according to NASA.”* This year, Mars will be closest to Earth, at 38,568,243 miles distant, at 10:19 a.m. on the 6th. The planet’s furthest distance is 250 million miles.*

Follow Mars from sunset to sunrise. Take a first look before moonrise. The waning gibbous moon rises at 8:33 p.m. on the 5th and half an hour to an hour later all this week The rusty-gold orb reaches rather high in the sky at midnight and then drops to set in the west as the sun rises in the east.

Sunset is at 6:29 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time today, the 5th, and about two minutes earlier every day through the 18th. Mars rises at about 7 p.m. today, the 5th, and several minutes earlier every evening.

Marcelo Barbosa in Texas captured this telescopic image of Mars on Sept. 27, 2020. Mars will reach its once-in-two-years opposition Tuesday, Oct. 13. That’s when Earth will pass between Mars and the sun, bringing the planet closest to us for this two-year period. Photo courtesy EarthSky.org

Resources

https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/mars-class-2020-diverse-group-missions-takes-aim-red-planet
*https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/how-far-is-it-from-earth-to-mars.html
*https://www.space.com/40588-mars-at-opposition.html
https://thusspokejon.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/our-planets-sizes-orbits-etc/
https://simulationcurriculum.com/