At any time in the last 17 years, Mars will be close to Earth tonight.
The red planet will be the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon, astronomers say.
The planet is in its opposing phase, the Earth passes directly and between the Sun and will appear “effectively as a full Mars”, according to NASA.
It will be visible to the naked eye and will look a little red.
The planet from the UK will rise above the horizon at around 7pm but will look best after midnight – ideally in a clear sky and a region with minimal pollution.
To see Mars in the night sky you should look to the right of the moon and to the constellation Pisces.
“Just go out and take a look and depending on your local weather and lighting conditions, you should see Mars,” NASA wrote in a blog post.
Mars reaches its closest point to Earth every two years, but not every close approach is the same, even millions of miles apart between nearby points.
Both planets are not in perfect spherical orbits – so every 15 or 17 years the distances get a little closer – this year Mars will be 38.6 million miles from Earth.
This is the closest approach since 2003 when Mars was 34 million miles away – the closest in 60,000 years. By 2287 it will not be so close.
Next time Mars and Earth will be as close as this year 2035 – around NASA’s hopes of sending astronauts to the Red Planet.
“If Earth and Mars had a perfectly circular orbit, their minimum distances would always be the same. However, they have an elliptical (egg-shaped) path,” NASA said.
“In addition, the gravitational tug by the planets causes a slight change in the shape of their orbits. Giant Jupiter especially affects the orbit of Mars.
“The orbits of Mars and Earth are also slightly tilted out of respect for each other.”
That is why the distance between the two planets can change by millions of miles.
“When Mars and Earth are close to each other, Mars looks very bright in our sky. It also makes it easier to see with telescopes or the naked eye,” NASA wrote.
“The Red Planet comes close enough to look exceptional once or twice every 15 or 17 years, and the next approach is in 2035.”
As Mars rises in the sky tonight, Earthsyki reports that it will “appear every evening as a bright red star to the east and west.”
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