EYES TO THE SKY: The Year of Planet Mars

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By Monday, Feb 19 Learning  1 Comment
Artist’s concept of Earth (third planet from the sun) passing between the sun and Mars (fourth planet from the sun). Not to scale. At such times, Mars appears opposite the sun in our sky, and astronomers say that Mars is in ‘opposition’ to the sun. Mars will be in opposition in July 2018. Image courtesy NASA

February 19 – March 4, 2018

Coming soon! Get up before dawn for a great view of the moon and the morning planets! Image courtesy EarthSky.org

Mount Washington — A rare and extraordinary celestial event in 2018 doesn’t require masterminding a trip to a faraway destination like many of us undertook last year to see the Great American Eclipse. This year, between now and the end of July, a big change will be observable in the sky seen from our own backyards. Planet Earth is orbiting closer to Mars every day and, every day, Mars is incrementally brighter. Seen as a dim red glow (1.30 magnitude) at the beginning of the year, by late July, the Red Planet will increase to (-2.78m) a brilliance greater than Jupiter’s (-2.12m). Mars will appear 50 times brighter to the naked eye*. Regarding the magnitude numbers: the smaller the number, the larger the magnitude (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnitude_%28astronomy%29).

Look for Mars before dawn in the company of Saturn, red star Antares and Jupiter in the south to southeast. Yes, that’s the catch: We don’t have to travel far, but we do have to wake up early to witness this celestial wonder at its inception. Best view an hour before sunrise. Sunrise on the 20th is 6:43 a.m.; on March 4, 6:25 a.m..

Fourmilab schema of the inner planets for Feb. 19, 2018. Check symbols to identify the planets. Earth is closing in on Mars as the planets trace their orbits around the sun. Image courtesy https://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Solar

For astronomical perspective, and to feed our thirst for sensational facts, consider that research revealed that an estimated 60,000 years had elapsed between Sept. 12, 57,617 BC, and Aug. 27, 2003, when Mars made its closest observed approach to Earth. The minimum distance between the Red Planet and Earth in 2003 was estimated to be 34,646,420 miles and its greatest apparent magnitude −2.88. This year the numbers are 35,785,537 miles apart with a magnitude of -2.78. The next close rendezvous will be in 17 years. The next record for closest proximity of Earth to Mars will be in the year 2287.

Let’s be in touch as the Year of Mars continues to culmination on July 27 and then as the Red Planet slowly recedes.


Culture, history and science – https://mars.nasa.gov/
Dava Sobel, The Planets, Viking 2005

Solar system symbols

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  1. Judith Lerner says:

    Oh! How fun! I LOVE learning about these things! I love looking at the sky and so does my dog Mutzl whom I often walk before dawn so he can patrol for his greatest enemy: helicopters!

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