Mars will be closest to the Earth in a decade and a half on Tuesday, on the night of July 31, 2018. The Earth will have the Red Planet and the Sun on either side, with the three celestial bodies in a straight line. The two planets will be at closest distances to each other, but they will still be 57.6 million km apart.
This will be the closest distance between Mars and Earth will have till October 2020. This event happens every 15-17 years. Those who were watching the lunar eclipse on July 27 must have noticed Mars in the sky too, as the planet was easily visible a few degrees below our natural satellite. We should be able to see Mars till September but it will appear smaller each passing day as it leaves the orbit closer to the Earth.
Mars closest to Earth in 15 years
Though Mars is closest to the Earth in 15 years for our generation, it is nowhere as big a deal as it was in 2003. Back then, Mars and Earth were ‘just’ 56 million km apart – a phenomenon that had not occurred in 60,000 years and will not happen again till the year 2287, as per NASA estimates.
Why does this happen?
Earth and Mars have elliptical orbits like every other planet, means being oval in shape. The perihelic opposition happens when Mars is at the nearest point to the Sun in its orbit, which happened on July 27 in 2018 – the night of the lunar eclipse. At that time, the gap between the two planets was greater than it will be today. But it must be noted that Mars being closest to the Earth does not mean it will be at its brightest too. In fact, the planet’s best visibility is estimated to be from July 27 to July 31, meaning you still have tonight to experience a sight you won’t get for at least another 15 years.
How to watch the phenomenon in India?
The best place to watch Mars in closest position to Earth is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means India is not the best location to view this celestial phenomenon. However, visibility will not be too bad as it is estimated that the planet will be easily visible from all parts of India, just not as well as it would be from Australia, South Africa or countries in South America. You will need a telescope with a large lens (6- to 8-inch in size) to be able to see the planet, and even then the clouds may obstruct your view.
If you want to watch the phenomenon online, you can also view the event being live streamed on NASA’s Griffith Observatory’s YouTube channel.