Mars – Close and Bright

This week – tomorrow actually – Mars will be at its closest approach to the Earth for this apparition. In fact, Mars won’t be this close to the earth for another nine years (2016). This year Mars is 55 million miles from the earth (88 million kilometers). and shines bright inthe northeastern sky after dark.

Graphic – Mars after sunset, December 18th

Mars is rising before 6.00pm now, and is easily seen as a bright reddish “star” rising in the northeast sky, outshining all of the stars in the night sky (Sirius being the brightest star).

Mars is in the constellation of Gemini, where it will stay until the end of the year, when it travels into the neighboring constellation Taurus on December 30th.

Even though this week Mars is at it’s closest to our planet, the next “event” is on Christmas Eve, when the Red Planet will be at opposition (opposite the sun from Earth’s position). And the night before, the Full Moon will be keeping Mars company all night long, making a striking pair.

At opposition, Mars rises at sunset and is at it’s highest near midnight, nearly 75° above the horizon. It then slowly travels westward, sinking to the western horizon at sunrise.

Mars will be conspicuous for the next month or so, but fades quickly as the winter season draws to a close. So if there are some clear nights, make sure to go out and take a look at the “God of War.”

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