WNPR

Mars Makes Close Pass By Earth

Jul 27, 2018

The planet Mars will swing really close to Earth Friday night, making our neighbor’s bright red-orange light outshine Jupiter’s in the night sky.

It’s all thanks to a phenomenon called “opposition,” which means the Earth is sandwiched between the Sun and Mars.

Martha Gilmore is a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Wesleyan University.

“Imagine that we’re sitting on the Earth -- looking at Mars. And the Sun is behind us. So Mars is illuminated by the Sun -- like a full moon would be,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore said this happens about every 26 months. But here’s where this weekend’s event gets special. Planets don’t orbit in perfect circles. They follow elliptical patterns, the kind of shape a circle would make if you sat on it.

That means, sometimes, Mars is closer to Earth than at other times -- and, closer to the Sun.

“This happens to be an opposition where Mars is both closer to the Earth than normal. And also closer to the Sun than it has been in a long time,” Gilmore said. “So because of those two factors, Mars will appear very, very bright in the sky.”

A close approach we won’t see again until 2035 -- visible with your eyeballs and best viewed just before dawn.