October this year is the perfect month for amateur stargazers hoping to immerse themselves in more serious astronomy. The rare Halloween Blue Moon rises on October 31 and Red Planet Mars is easy to spot because it is currently the third brightest object to be seen at night. And the planet is slowly aligning with the sun, going into opposition next week.
What is the opposite of Mars?
Every 26 months or so, the red planet and Earth are on the same side of the sun.
In celestial circles, this arrangement is called the opposite and it forms a straight line between the Sun, Earth and Mars.
In contrast, Mars occurs when the red planet faces the sun from Earth.
The U.S. space agency NASA says: “From our point of view on our spinning world, Mars rises in the east as the sun sets in the west.
“Then, after being in the sky all night, Mars set in the west just as the sun rises in the east.
“Because Mars and the sun are facing the sky, we say that Mars is in ‘opposition’.”
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When is Mars in opposition this year?
Astronomers expect opposition to come this year on Tuesday, October 13th.
Every 15 to 17 years, the opposite of Mars falls within a few weeks of the Red Planet’s closest orbit to the Sun – its periphery.
This year, the opposition will come a week later in the nearest orbit of our planet Mars.
On October 6, Mars reached 38,568,243 miles (62,069,570 km) to Earth – its closest approach until 2035.
But the opposite of Mars can happen at any time in the orbit of the planet.
NASA’s Lance d. Davis said: “When observing Mars around the opposition, telescopes show details of the planet, such as dark and light areas on the surface of Mars and the famous South Pole ice cap. Earth.
“Because of the turbulence of our atmosphere, it is difficult to see these details, especially in small telescopes.”
He said: “The most important thing about the appearance of Mars – whether seen with the naked eye or through a telescope – is its red color.
“This color is caused by the iron in the rocks on the surface of Mars – causing redness in the sandstone structures in the southwestern US.”