Mars Makes Closest Approach to Earth in More Than a Decade

Posted May 23rd, 2016 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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In 2016, Mars will appear brightest from May 18-June 3. Its closest approach to Earth is May 30. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In 2016, Mars will appear brightest from May 18-June 3. Its closest approach to Earth is May 30. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Do you want to get a good look at Mars?  Well now is the time to catch the Red Planet as it makes its closest approach to Earth in the past eleven years.

Every 26 months in an event called an opposition by astronomers – Mars and the Sun happen to be on opposite sides of the Earth.  The latest opposition took place on 5/22/16.

An illustration of the relative 'tilt' in the orbits of Earth and Mars and alignment of the Sun, Earth and Mars during opposition. (NASA)

An illustration of the relative ’tilt’ in the orbits of Earth and Mars and alignment of the Sun, Earth and Mars during opposition. (NASA)

According to NASA, Mars started to appear at its brightest on May 18th and will continue until June 3rd.

The people who operate the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of this special arrangement and captured a new image of the Red Planet on May 12th.

This image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows Mars, as it was observed On 5/12/16, before opposition in 2016 (NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

This image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows Mars, as it was observed On 5/12/16, before opposition in 2016 (NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

May 30th is when the two planets are at its closest point since early April 2014.

That’s when Mars will be about 75 million km from Earth.

Since the planet’s orbits are affected by different factors, the distance between planets during opposition may vary.

Mars reaches its highest point around 0400 UTC 5/30/16 -- about 35 degrees above the southern horizon, or one third of the distance between the horizon and overhead. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars reaches its highest point around 0400 UTC 5/30/16 — about 35 degrees above the southern horizon, or one third of the distance between the horizon and overhead. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In August, 2003 Mars was even closer at almost 56 million km from Earth.  This was the Red Planet’s, closest approach in 60,000 years.

If you miss this close approach of Mars, you’ll have to wait until July of 2018.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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