Mars in 2020

Every couple of years, Earth passes near to Mars. But because Mars’ orbit is quite elongated (“elliptical”), the distance between the two planets can get much closer every 15-17 years. This year was one of these closest approach years, with Mars just 62 million km away on October 6th. Ok, not close enough to ever worry about ever hitting Mars; but if you are in the business of sending spacecraft to other world, this is the best time to do so. And indeed, the US, China and the United Arab Emirates each launched their own mission to Mars this year, all expected to arrive there in February next year.  

Both planets, of course, are continuing to travel along their respective orbits about the Sun. As the Earth moves faster along its smaller inner orbit closer to the Sun, it overtakes Mars travelling in its more distant orbit, like race cars travelling along an oval racetrack. From our perspective here on Earth, as Earth overtakes Mars, Mars will be seen in the opposite direction from the Sun. Hence, we use the term “opposition” to describe these events. And if Mars is currently opposite the Sun, that means it rises in the East at sunset and will spend the whole night crossing the sky to set in the West at sunrise!   Mars continues to appear to the unaided eye as an unusually bright, orangey coloured “star” in the Eastern sky after sunset until the end of October. It will then begin to fade noticeably as the distance between the two planets steadily increases. Although it will rise earlier each night and stays high in the sky through the night, it will have dropped five-fold in brightness by Christmas time. So enjoy Mars now while it’s at its best! If you have a telescope, even a small telescope, this is your best opportunity to see Mars through your scope for the next 15 years!!! Here’s a sample of what our members have been able to achieve in 2020… 

-DDO Defenders 😁

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