Mars is approaching! It now shines brightly in the midnight sky as a red star in Scorpius.
You can’t miss Mars now. It is shining brighter than it has since 2005, and is about to come as close to Earth as it has in 11 years as well.
Mars is now approaching opposition, when the Earth comes closest to Mars, and the Sun, Earth and Mars lie along the same line. Opposition date is May 22. That’s when Mars shines at its brightest, at magnitude -2.1, about as bright as Jupiter. Only Venus can be a brighter planet and it’s not in our sky right now.
A week later, on May 30, Mars comes closest to Earth, at a distance of 75 million kilometres. That’s when the disk of Mars looks largest in a telescope. And you will need a telescope at high power (150x to 250x) to make out the dark markings, north polar cap, and bright white clouds on Mars.
In these views, I show Mars shining as a bright reddish star low in my western Canadian sky. I shot the lead image from Dinosaur Provincial Park on May 16. The image just above was from my backyard the night before.
This week, Mars is passing between Beta and Delta Scorpii, two bright stars in the head of Scorpius, as the red planet retrogrades westward against the background stars.
Saturn shines to the east (left) of Mars now, with both planets shining above the red giant star Antares in Scorpius. In these photos they form a neat triangle.
Even without a telescope to magnify the view, it’ll be rewarding to watch Mars with the unaided eye or binoculars as it treks west out of Scorpius into Libra this spring and summer. It stops retrograding on June 30, then starts looping back into Scorpius, for a rendezvous with Antares and Saturn in late August.
This little compilation of time-lapse movies shows Mars, Saturn, and the rest of the sky, rising into the southeast and across the south on two nights this past week.
Be sure to explore Mars this month and next, whether by eye or by telescope. It’s the best we’ve seen it in a decade.
It’s next close approach in 2018 will be even better, though Mars will appear even lower in our northern sky.
– Alan, May 17 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com