Approaching Mars this December

In less than one month Mars will be at it’s best for the year, being at “opposition.” This means that the planet is opposite the sun from the earth (earth being in between), and will be visible all night long.

Currently Mars rises around 8pm, and is located in the constellation Gemini, where it will reside for the next few months. It’s about the brightest “star-like” object in the night sky, and will only get brighter over the next few weeks. Right now Mars is around 60 million miles from Earth, and will be ~5 million miles close at it’s closest on December 18th. A week later, on the 24th, is when Mars is at opposition, and rises at sunset.

Although Mars won’t be as close as it was in 2003, this year has an advantage because it will be higher in the sky, and the visibility will be better. When you look up at the night sky, the higher you gaze above the horizon, the less amount of atmosphere you are looking through. When Mars was extremely close in 2003, it was low in the south, and consequently we had to look through more of the atmosphere, which also meant more turbulence, air pollution, and other factors which reduced the visibility. But with Mars high in Gemini this time, these factors have been reduced. So while the Red Planet itself will appear smaller, the view could be a lot better.

Unfortunately, due to orbital mechanics, the views of Mars will be steadily more and more unfavorable for the next several apparitions, so go out, brave the cold, and take a look at Mars this year (and through early 2008).

And don’t worry… this time, even Grover’s Mill, New Jersey is safe.

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