October is proving to be a fantastic month for stargazers with two Full Moons and Mars’s closest approach to Earth this year. The Red Planet is now the third brightest object in the night skies, after the Moon and Venus, and is joined by Jupiter and Saturn in the southwestern skies. And to top it all off, this year’s Mars opposition will peak tomorrow night.
What is Mars opposition?
As the Red Planet races around the Sun, completing a lap every 687 days, it will sometimes line up with the Sun and Earth.
When the three bodies find themselves in a straight line, with the Earth in the centre, we witness a so-called opposition.
When the three bodies are aligned with the Sun in the middle, we witness a conjunction.
Mars opposition is the more exciting of the two events as it results in an easily visible and bright planet.
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NASA’s Lance D. Davis said: “This month of October brings an amazing night sky view of the Red Planet.
“Mars is currently visible, reaching its highest point in the night sky around midnight.
“Earth’s closest neighbour is also at its brightest and will remain that way well into November.”
Mars opposition happens roughly once every 26 months or so.
This year it happens to fall on the night of Tuesday, October, at about 12.20am BST or 11.20pm GMT.
In addition, the opposition falls just six days after Mars made its closest approach to Earth of about 38,568,243 miles (62,069,570km).
This was the closest Mars’s orbit will come to Earth until at least 2035.
According to NASA, every 15 or 17 years, Mars opposition falls within a few weeks of Mars’s closest orbit of the Sun – also known as perihelion.
Mr Davis said: “At its furthest, Mars reaches about 250 million miles (400 million km) from Earth.
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Mars opposition 2020: Look for Mars in the eastern skies right after sunset
“During the October opposition, it will be as close as 40 million miles (60 million km) – nearly seven times closer.
“Although Mars will still look like a bright star to the unaided eye, it will grow dramatically in size when seen in a telescope.”
How to see Mars opposition tomorrow night:
The Red Planet will be easily visible to the naked eye in the eastern skies after sunset.
When viewed from London, for example, look above the eastern horizon after sunset at about 6.10pm BST (5.10pm GMT).
A website like TimeandDate.com will tell you what time the Sun will set for your particular location.
You might also want to check your local weather forecast to make sure the skies will be clear of clouds.
Mr Davis also advises grabbing a telescope if you want to get a good look at some of the planet’s surface features.
He said: “When it comes to observing Mars around opposition, telescopes will show more of the planet’s details, such as dark and light regions on Mars’ surface, and the prominent south polar ice cap, which will be tilted towards the Earth.
“Due to the turbulence of our atmosphere, these details can be hard to see, especially in smaller telescopes.”