Mars gears up for its closest approach to Earth in over a decade (Synopsis)

"This is the plan. Get your ass to Mars, and go to the Hilton Hotel and flash the fake Brubaker I.D. at the front desk, that's all there is to it. Just do as I tell you." -Total Recall

Every two years, Earth passes Mars in orbit, as the inner, faster world overtakes the outer one. This year, it happens when Earth approaches aphelion, its farthest point from the Sun, while Mars approaches perihelion, or its closest approach.

Earth’s and Mars’ orbits, to scale, as viewed from the Solar System’s north direction. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Areong under a c.c.a.-s.a.-2.5 license. Earth’s and Mars’ orbits, to scale, as viewed from the Solar System’s north direction. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Areong under a c.c.a.-s.a.-2.5 license.

On May 30th, the two worlds pass within just 0.51 A.U. (76 million km) of one another, their closest encounter since 2005. While Mars will still appear as no more than a point to unaided human vision, telescopes will provide absolutely spectacular views during the next three months. If you miss it, you'll have to wait two years for views this good, and then you won’t get them again until 2035.

Varying views of Mars near opposition over the course of many years, from 1995-2005. Image credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage team, via https://www.flickr.com/photos/hubble-heritage/3195427662. Varying views of Mars near opposition over the course of many years, from 1995-2005. Image credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage team, via https://www.flickr.com/photos/hubble-heritage/3195427662.

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". . . across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment."
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By Vladtepec (not verified) on 18 Apr 2016 #permalink

Alas, Mars will be at quite a southerly location in the sky, at Declination -21 degrees or so. Those of us in the northern hemisphere will have to look through quite a bit of the Earth's atmosphere to see Mars during its opposition. The view from the southern hemisphere will be much better.

By Michael Richmond (not verified) on 20 Apr 2016 #permalink