Published: Mon, May 23, 2016
Science | By Hubert Green

Go outside tonight to view Mars without a telescope

On Sunday, Mars will be at opposition, meaning that the red planet and the sun will be on directly opposite sides of Earth.

In a planetary alignment befitting the most retro sci-fi movies, tonight's "Mars opposition" will showcase the planet in its shining, red glory.

Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in a decade this month, providing sky-watchers with a celestial show from dusk to dawn starting this week, NASA said on Thursday.

Mars rises in the East at 8:10 p.m. EDT and sets in the West at 5:35 a.m. EDT, so will be visible above the horizon for 9 hours and 25 minutes, states.

It's a phenomenon that happens once every two years (or 26 months), about the time the Red Planet takes to completely orbit the sun. May 22 marks the Earth's passage directly between Mars and the Sun. As a result, Earth makes nearly two full orbits in the time it takes Mars to make just one, resulting in the occurrence of Martian oppositions about every 26 months.

Amateur astronomer Dr. Ian Musgrave, from the University of Adelaide in Australia, has recommended stargazers use telescopes if they have the chance.

Mars can be seen with the unaided eye, but a backyard telescope will reveal more.

The distance between Earth and Mars reaches up to about 250 million miles (400 million km) depending on the ever-changing positions of the two planets as they circle around the sun.

The special alignment of planets is due to the orbits of Earth and Mars. By mid-June, it will start to become faint, as Mars and Earth move farther apart in their orbits around the sun, NASA explains. The next Mars Close Approach is on July 31, 2018.

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