Mars will appear like a bright reddish-star in the night sky tonight as the Red Planet reaches its point of opposition with the Earth, between it and the Sun. It will be visible with the naked eye and appear slightly reddish in colour – looking through a telescope should allow you to spot surface features and polar ice caps. Mars won’t appear this bright again until 2035 when the two planets are next in close alignment with one another – but should be bright until the end of October.
Astronomers call this event an “opposition of Mars” because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky. Mars rises in the east at sunset, and soars almost overhead at midnight, shining burnt-orange almost 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star. Oppositions of Mars happen every 26 months. Of a similar encounter in the 19th century, astronomer Percival Lowell wrote that “[Mars] blazes forth against the dark background of space with a splendor that outshines Sirius and rivals the giant Jupiter himself.” In other words, it’s really easy to see.
Photo Credit: NASA