Last month, Mars will be closer to Earth than any other point of time for the next 15 years. Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, is also the nearest planet to Earth. But last month, it was only a mere 62.1 million kilometers (38.6 million miles) away from Earth. It was closest to Earth on October 6, 2020, and this strange phenomenon was visible in the sky throughout the month of October. Last month, Mars was a favorite for stargazers as it was sitting just North of the celestial equator, a region of the night with very few stars. Mars was perfectly placed to be seen from both hemispheres.
Mars and Earth both have slightly elliptical orbits. This enables both planets to occasionally get very close to each other. Last month, Earth swung between Mars and the Sun. This event, called Mars’ opposition, occurred on October 13, when Mars was directly on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun, according to NASA. Mars made it’s closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years in 2003, coming within a distance of 34.65 million miles. This year, Mars will be visible in the eastern sky and will appear as a stunning reddish light, if weather permits. Even though Mars was shining brightly throughout the month, it was not nearly as big as the moon.
NASA released last month what scientists said was stunning new images of Mars taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Earlier this summer, Hubble captured images of dust storms on the Red Planet. This time, Mars opposition fell just before the longest lunar eclipse, which will last 1 hour and 43 minutes. North America was the only continent on Earth from which the eclipse was not visible. Mars lit up the sky as it comes closer to Earth. As Mars got closer, opportunities to study the Red Planet grew. Another close encounter like this will not happen until 2035. If by chance you missed the opportunity, don’t be distraught. Mars will be visible in the night sky for the next few months!
ARTICLE: UTSAV NAYAK
PHOTO CREDITS: NASA