Image Credit: JPL / NASA
This July has been an exciting month for observing planets in the sky, with the best still to come. Mars will be making its closest approach to Earth since 2003. Since Mars and Earth both orbit the sun but at different speeds, there is a time every two years or so where the two planets form a straight line with the sun. This is called opposition, and will occur on July 27th this year. On July 31st, around 3:50 am EST is when Mars will be the closest to Earth.
In 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. It was only 34.6 million miles from Earth, and this will not happen again for another 280 years. This time around, Mars will be 35.8 million miles away and appear over 5 times brighter in the sky! The planet will be brightest in the sky from July 21st to August 3rd. For viewers in the northern hemisphere, Mars has been rising in the evening sky since mid-June. This means Mars will be easily visible.
These sites are user friendly and can help even beginner observers track objects in the sky once they enter the correct time and location. Mars is easily identified by its drastic red/orange color and can be easily distinguished from surrounding stars. During this time period, Mars will be one of the brightest objects in the sky, much brighter than most stars visible.
RIT SPEX members will be volunteering at the RIT Observatory on August 3rd for an open house for the public. This will be a great opportunity for anyone in the Rochester to get a great view of Mars, as well as other planets, through professional telescopes. Come talk to members of the RIT astronomy community and learn about the sky. Rain date for this event is Saturday, August 4th. More information can be found at the Observatory website