If you just can’t wait for the long, hot days of summer, then you might want to take a little road trip -- to the planet Mars. That’s because summer arrives in the northern hemisphere of Mars today. It’s the longest day of the year, and in some places the temperature might creep above freezing.
Mars has seasons for the same reason that Earth does -- the planet is tilted on its axis. Right now, its north pole is tilted toward the Sun, so the northern hemisphere gets most of the sunlight. In fact, the north pole itself is seeing the Sun around the clock.
Mars’s orbit is much more stretched out than Earth’s orbit, which has a big effect on the length of the seasons.
Mars is near its farthest point from the Sun at the start of northern summer, so the planet is moving fairly slowly in its orbit around the Sun. As a result, summer lasts about 24 days longer than winter. But since the Sun is far away, the northern summer is cooler than the short summer of the southern hemisphere, which comes when Mars is closest to the Sun.
Still, the summer days are warm enough to vaporize much of the polar ice cap, which helps stir up storm systems that sweep across the planet; we’ll have more about that tomorrow.
In the meantime, look for Mars high in the eastern sky as night falls, shining like a bright orange star close to the brightest star of Leo, the lion. Mars climbs high across the sky during the night, and sets just as dawn begins to break.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.