Mars at opposition 2018: when is the Red Planet closest to earth?

Enlarge Image The Hubble Space Telescope observed Saturn on June 6.                  NASA ESA A. Simon and the OPAL Team and J. De Pasquale

The giant planet completes one rotation every 10.5 hours. It's like pointing a flashlight directly at what you want to see. It has an atmosphere (but much more tenuous), white ice caps on the southern and northern polar regions (but not only water ice but also carbon dioxide ice), as well as evidence of the past existence of rivers and even oceans. A dust storm is ravaging the planet. According to NASA it typically reaches its highest point around midnight, but you can see the red planet in the southeastern sky earlier in the night as well. To find the water, Italian researchers analyzed radar signals collected over three years by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

"This is a stunning result that suggests water on Mars is not a temporary trickle like previous discoveries but a persistent body of water that provides the conditions for life for extended periods of time", said Alan Duffy, an associate professor at Swinburne University in Australia, who was not involved in the study.

Saturn, which was in opposition on June 27th, was captured by Hubble Space Telescope in a series of astonishing pictures, and now is the turn for Mars to move as close to Earth as it can be.

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Mars will be visible between Friday, July 27 and Monday, July 30, making its closest approach - 35.8 million miles to be exact - on Tuesday, July 31 at around 4 a.m. E.T. Not even the brightness of the moon will put a damper on Mars' big night.

These side-by-side images of Mars, taken roughly two years apart, show very different views of the same hemisphere of Mars.

Mars and Earth come closest to each other in their orbits every 26 months, but since the two orbits are slightly tilted, not every close approach is equal. To the south of this feature a string of bright clouds is visible: remnants of a disintegrating storm. At the ringed-planet's north pole, Hubble identified a hexagonal pattern first spotted 37 years ago during a flyby from Voyager 1. That also places it closest to Earth. Unfortunately, we're getting the short end of the stick on this one. Planets don't orbit in flawless circles. Not only will the moon be at its fullest phase, it is also at its most distant point from earth.

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"Mars being the closest right now will be the brightest", said Gary Nelson, president of the observatory.

"It hasn't been this close since 2003 and won't be again until 2287", said Kelly. Friday night, Castle Craig in Meriden is hosting what is ostensibly a full moon viewing (yeah, there's a full moon too), but at almost 1,000 feet above sea level it's sure to provide a great look at the red planet as well.

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