Mars and M35
BEST TIME TO SEE: 18-19 May as the sky darkens
At the start of April, Mars passed south of the Pleiades open cluster, M45, a lovely sight if you had clear skies. This month, the Red Planet will have another apparent encounter with a cluster, the lovely M35 in Gemini. Although this cluster can be glimpsed with the naked eye under dark sky conditions, it lacks the brilliance of the Pleiades. Consequently, you’ll need binoculars or a low power telescope to get the best views.
Unlike the Pleiades pass, which saw Mars approach within 3.5˚ of M45, the encounter with M35 has Mars passing over the northern reaches of the cluster. The conjunction can be seen on the night of 18 May and again on 19 May, but the position of Mars and M35 is not optimal, both objects appearing rather low as the sky darkens.
Mars will be at mag. +1.7 on 18 May, much dimmer than when it was last at opposition on 27 July. On that date the Red Planet shone at mag. -2.8 which was brighter than Jupiter. Despite this, it will still outshine the cluster which has an integrated magnitude of +5.5. M35 has an apparent diameter of 28 arcminutes and contains several hundred stars. There are some beautiful red-hued stars here too, which should provide an interesting comparison with Mars.
A previous encounter between the Red Planet and star cluster M35 in October 2007