I see red, I see red, I see Mars

Hawke's Bay Today - - Digest -

Mars is pay­ing us its clos­est visit for the next 17 years, mak­ing the red planet ap­pear big­ger and brighter than usual.

While Earth and Mars fol­low el­lip­ti­cal or oval-shaped or­bits around the Sun, the fact our planet is closer than Mars means Earth speeds along its or­bit faster.

This meant Earth ef­fec­tively took two trips around the Sun in the same time it took for Mars to make just a sin­gle cir­cuit.

When Earth lined up di­rectly be­tween Mars and the Sun, this put Mars in “op­po­si­tion” — an oc­cur­rence that took place about ev­ery two years, and next oc­curs on July 27. But as­tronomers say this year’s op­po­si­tion will be all the more spe­cial.

Mars’ per­i­he­lion was the point when the planet was clos­est to the Sun in its or­bit.

When this oc­curred within a few weeks of op­po­si­tion, a “per­i­helic op­po­si­tion” re­sulted, and Mars ap­peared even big­ger and brighter.

Such events only hap­pen about ev­ery 17 years — and some bring us closer than oth­ers.

The 2003 op­po­si­tion was es­pe­cially sig­nif­i­cant, be­ing the clos­est op­po­si­tion in the past 60,000 years.

While this year’s con­di­tions wouldn’t be quite as ex­tra­or­di­nary, Mars would still only ap­pear 4 per cent smaller than that spec­ta­cle. It was likely the next time the two plan­ets are at per­i­helic op­po­si­tion, in 2035, hu­mans will have walked upon the sur­face of Mars. Star-gaz­ers should have sev­eral weeks to get an up-close view of Mars. Auck­land’s Star­dome ob­ser­va­tory is cel­e­brat­ing with a se­ries of “Mad About Mars” events run­ning this month and next with its his­toric Zeiss tele­scope. It is open for ex­tended hours and dis­counted rates.

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