On the 27th August 2003, Mars will be less than 55.76
million kilometers away from earth. This is the closest Mars will
have been to earth in over 60 000 years.
26 months Mars and Earth pass close to each other in their orbits,
this is called Mars Opposition, that is, Mars is Opposite to the
Sun, as seen from earth.
image on the right shows the position of Earth and Mars on the 27th
Because Earth's and Mars' orbits are not
perfectly round, the distance between the two is different each
time they come close, in August 2003 we are closer to Mars than we
have been for a long, long time.
The brightest object in the sky is the Sun,
followed by the Moon, the International Space Station and then
Venus and Jupiter.
From the middle of July till early October, Mars
will be brighter than Jupiter, but it will not get brighter than Venus.
Mars at this time, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, look
north at about midnight, should be hard to miss. In the Northern
Hemisphere, look south at midnight. With a telescope you will be
able to see features on the surface of Mars!
There are 5 planets visible to the naked eye in our solar
system. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These are very
bright in the sky compared to stars, and can be seen earlier in
the evening and later in the morning than stars. Venus is often
the first object you can see in the sky at dusk.
Planets move with relation to the background of stars over the
course of days, where stars seem to all move together in the sky.
Planets also twinkle a lot less than stars do, if you see a
bright star at night that does not twinkle, then it is most
likely a planet.
Finally, all the planets move roughly in the same orbital
plane. So if you can look along the arc that the sun curves out
during the day, the planets will be quite close to that arc in the
sky at night.
Happy Star Gazing!