This month, Mars is in rare proximity to Earth, allowing us to get a clear glimpse of our closest neighbor in the solar system with or without a telescope.
The Red Planet will make its closest approach to Earth on Tuesday, October 6, at 62 million kilometers (38.6 million miles) away. Even better, Mars will be in a region of the night sky with very few stars, making it visible with the naked eye. It will appear as a bright dot near the moon. And if you’re lucky, you might even catch Jupiter and Saturn twinkling above the horizon.
To get the best view of Mars, we recommend that you get a sky chart to figure out where the planet will be in the night sky from your location. Miss the chance, and you’ll have to wait till 2035 for Mars to come this close again.
Mars and Earth are both moving around the sun in slightly elliptical orbits, in the same direction but at different speeds. So occasionally they can get very close to each other. The closest encounter is when the two planets reach opposition (when Earth is the furthest away from the sun while Mars is the closest to the sun), at which point they are about 55 million kilometers (33.9 million miles) apart.
These close approaches also create optimal launch windows for Mars missions as it minimizes the fuel and time required to get there.
Such configuration happens approximately every two years. But it’s rare for Mars and Earth to align perfectly to create a clear viewing angle in the night sky.
The closest Mars-Earth approach ever recorded was in 2003, when the Red Planet was just 55.7 million kilometers (34.6 million miles) away from us. It got pretty close in 2018 again at 57.6 million kilometers (35.8 million miles) away.
It’s currently summer on the Red Planet, which coincides with the high dust storm risks, allowing skywatchers to see surface features including its polar ice cap.
Mars will remain bright and well-positioned for viewing throughout October.