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Mars will be the brightest and closest it has been in 15 years in July



mars whole planet globe map space nasa
illustration of Mars against the blackness of

Dave Mosher/Business Insider

  • Mars will
    be at its closest point to our planet in 15 years throughout
    July, making for some prime nighttime viewing.
  • That’s because of a phenomenon called perihelic
    opposition, in which Earth’s and Mars’ orbits align, bringing
    the two planets closer together. 
  • Perihelic opposition only occurs once every 15 to 17
    years, so get out there and find the red planet in the

will look brighter in the night sky over the next six weeks than
it has appeared in 15 years.

That’s because the red planet will be at its closest point to
Earth since 2003 throughout June and July, as our planet passes
between Mars and the sun.

On July 31, when Mars will be at its brightest, it’ll
be 35.8 million miles away from Earth,
according to The Weather Channel

Mars will be easily visible to the naked eye throughout
July, outshining all but the brightest stars as it gets to its
closest point.

The reason for this is a phenomenon called perihelic
opposition. In simple terms, opposition is when Earth passes
directly between Mars and the sun. Last month, Jupiter was

in opposition
to our planet, swinging within 409 million
miles of Earth. 

Mars opposition happens every two years or so — the last
one came in May 2016. But this year is special
because within a few weeks of the opposition, the red planet
will also hit its closest point to the sun in its orbit, a point
called the perihelion.

Perihelic opposition occurs only once every 15 to 17 years,
when Earth’s and Mars’ orbits align to bring the two planets
close together, according to NASA

But while Mars may look bright and beautiful from your
backyard, the reality on the planet is much less friendly. A

dust storm
 is currently walloping Mars, and it’s grown
to become a “planet-encircling” storm — which means it covers
almost the entire planet, NASA

“The storm is one of the most intense ever observed on the
Red Planet,” NASA said in a
previous press release

NASA put its solar-powered Opportunity
rover in sleep mode to ride out the storm, but its unclear
whether the aging rover will be able to function again after the
storm ends.

The image below shows a series of pictures that NASA simulated
from the perspective of the Opportunity rover. They give a sense
of what the sun and sky have looked like from Mars’ surface — at
the brightest time of the day — as the storm has worsened. In the
far-right picture, the sun is entirely blotted out to

martian dust storm sun obscure block mars opportunity rover nasa jpl pia22521 16
images show what NASA’s Opportunity rover saw as a global dust
storm on Mars blotted out the sun in June


NASA’s newer Curiosity rover
runs on nuclear power so it seems to be doing fine, though the
dust storm doubled in size over the past weekend, according to

Curiosity is giving scientists a peek into the mechanics of
Martian dust storms, and scientists hope to use that data to
figure out why some dust storms fizzle out — and some last for
months and cover the whole planet. 

The animation below shows the dust storm spreading (it’s
that orangeish blob) between May 31 and June 11 — before it
reached its current size — with the locations of the Opportunity
and Curiosity rovers labeled.


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