Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catch brightest view of Mars on January 29.

Avid sky watchers are getting all geared to have the brightest view of Mars for the year, as the Red Planet would be pairing with the full Moon on January 29.

One reason this is such a grand spectacle is that Mars is at opposition on the 29th, which means it lines up opposite the Sun as Earth passes by Mars in our smaller, faster orbit around the Sun.

Mars rises around sunset and remains in view all night. The planet is also closest to us around opposition, so it shines brightest for the year.

This is not a great opposition for Mars because it occurs around the time that Earth is closest to the Sun and Mars is farthest.

The gap between the two planets will be a hefty 62 million miles (99 million km).

The smallest possible distance at opposition is about 35 million miles (56 million km), which happened a few years ago, when Mars appeared more than twice as bright as it will this year.

Even so, Mars puts on quite a spectacle.

Only the Moon, the planets Venus and Jupiter, and the star Sirius shine brighter. And since Venus is out of view in the Sun glare, Mars will rank as the fourth-brightest object in the night sky.

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