Tonight you might go out and see an extra bright orange dot in the sky. Well, that’s not a star you’re seeing, that’s Mars.
About every two years Mars lines up with the Earth and the Sun. It might not seem like a big deal because the Earth and Mars are fairly close to each other and share a similar orbit; they’re bound to line up with the Sun every once and a while. But when they line up together, and when we’re able to see Mars at night, the red planet will appear to be much brighter than it normally is when viewed in the sky. And, like I said, this happens every two years—but this year is a bit special. National Geographic reports: ‘This year’s event creates the perfect cosmic alignment to have Mars shine its biggest and brightest in the evening sky in nearly seven years.’ The result: Mars should be 10 times brighter than any other star in the sky.
The reason why tonight is special is because as March gives way to April, the orbital path between the Earth and Mars shrinks 300km a minute. This event is known by astronomers as “The Opposition of Mars.” No, that’s not a SciFi movie, it’s when Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky.
On April 14, at 8:53 a.m. EST, Mars will come within 57.4 million miles of Earth, its closest approach since January 2008. That also happens to be the same night as the total lunar eclipse.
But if you miss Mars in the sky tonight you’ll get another chance to see it in the sky next week.