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This month is all about Mars. The Red Planet lives up to its nickname, shining orange or red all month long. And it’s the third-brightest object in the night sky this month, after only the Moon and the planet Venus.
Mars looks so bright because Earth is passing by the planet. So Mars will spend October at or near opposition, when it lines up more or less opposite the Sun. That means it’s in view pretty much all night. And it’s closest to Earth not only for this year, but for many years to come.
Mars will be at its absolute closest tomorrow morning on American clocks — about 38.6 million miles away. We won’t be this close to Mars again until September of 2035.
Mars reaches opposition every 26 months or so, when Earth moves past the planet on our smaller, faster orbit around the Sun. Mars’s orbit is quite lopsided, though. So its distance at opposition varies by tens of millions of miles, depending on what time of year it takes place.
The best oppositions come in late summer. The opposition in August 2003, in fact, was the closest in almost 60,000 years.
This year’s is quite good as well — only about four million miles farther than the one in 2003. So Mars will be a brilliant red jewel sparkling all month long.
Tonight, look for the Red Planet in the east shortly after the sky gets good and dark, shining like a brilliant star — and remaining in view for the rest of the night.
Script by Damond Benningfield