Stargazers will soon be able to catch a better glimpse of Mars in the night sky, as the Red Planet is expected to come closer to Earth than it has been in the past 15 years.
The two planets will come closer to each other in their orbits around the sun due to a phenomenon, which is known as "perihelic opposition."
Mars Opposition: Mars Getting Closer To Earth In 2018
Mars opposition is a phenomenon that takes place once every two years. It occurs when the Earth passes directly between Mars and the sun and as a result, brings the two planets closer to each other. The phenomenon was last observed in May 2016.
This year, scientists are expecting to observe the same event taking place once again, but this time, as one that occurs only once or twice every 15 to 17 years.
What makes it very unique is that, in addition to getting Mars closer to Earth, it will also bring the red planet to the closest point to the sun in its orbit within a few weeks of the opposition.
A Bright Orange Light In The Night Sky
As a result, Mars and Earth will come closer to each other over the next few weeks. The red planet is expected to appear at its brightest in the sky on the morning of July 31.
Stargazers and astronomers will be able to spot the planet easily as a bright orange light either with a telescope or with the naked eye. The distance between the two planets, according to NASA, will cover around 35.8 million miles.
"Mars will easily be visible to the naked eye. In fact, you will be hard pressed to miss it. It will look like a glowing orange beacon of light rising in the southeast after sunset. It'll be much brighter than any star, brighter than Jupiter, nearly as bright as Venus. And you'll see it every night for the next several months." said Dean Regas, an astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory, told Mother Nature Network.
The last "perihelic opposition" took place back in 2003, which is considered to be the closest approach in nearly 60,000 years, according to NASA. What's more, this record is expected to stand until the year 2287.
Why The Minimum Distance Between Mars And Earth Keeps Changing?
According to the laws of nature, if Mars and Earth have the exact same circular orbits, the minimum distance between them, which is about 33.9 million miles, would always remain the same. However, because they both follow elliptical or oval-shaped orbits, the distance always changes from time to time.
Additionally, other factors contribute to the changes as well. Other planets in the solar system, such as Jupiter in particular, also have an effect on the shape of Mars's orbit.