February 19 – March 4, 2018
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..
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