Mars at Opposition

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Mars at Opposition
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The night sky offers some especially beautiful sights this week. Mars is shining at its best for the entire year. And over the next couple of mornings, the crescent Moon slips past the star Regulus and the planet Venus.

Venus is the brilliant “morning star.” It’ll stand below the Moon at first light tomorrow. At the same time, Regulus — the heart of the lion — will be roughly the same distance to the upper right of the Moon.

By Wednesday morning, the Moon will have dropped past Venus. The Moon will be an even thinner crescent then. So if you look before dawn, you’ll see a brighter glow on the dark portion of the Moon, illuminated by “earthshine” — sunlight reflected from our own Earth.

Mars is in view all night. It’s at a point called opposition. That means it lines up opposite the Sun in our sky. It rises around sunset and remains in the sky all night. And it shines at its brightest — like a brilliant orange star. In fact, this month it outshines everything else in the night except the Moon and Venus.

This is an especially good opposition for Mars. The planet’s distance from the Sun varies by quite a bit. Right now, Mars is fairly close to the Sun. So as Earth moves past Mars in our smaller, faster orbit, the Red Planet is fairly close to us as well — less than 40 million miles. That’s just about as close as it ever gets, so it shines especially bright — all night long.

More about Mars tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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