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2010: Mars gets brighter and closer to Earth

  • 27 January 2010
  • Written by 
  • Published in Space
On Wednesday night, January 27, 2010, Mars will be only 99 million kilometers (60 million miles) away from Earth. But, on Friday the viewing might be an even better for seeing Mars and the full Moon. So, take a look up in the sky and see a brighter and closer Red Planet.

The planet Mars will be its closest distance to Earth, on January 27, 2010 (a mere 99.33 million kilometers away), than it will be for the next four years'”until 2014.

It won't be as close as it was in 2003'”when it was only 56 kilometers (35 million miles) from Earth (its closest distance to Earth in 60,000 years)'”however it will still appear very bright, orangish-red, and a bit larger, too.

According to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) website Mars 2009/2010, 'Mars will come into Opposition on January 29, 2010 in the constellation Cancer. Two days before, on January 27, 2010, the planet will have come to its closest approach to Earth during this apparation: 99.33 million km (0.66399 AU).'

And, 'This is not very close, as Mars will be quite close to its aphelion at the time of this opposition; the aphelion is passed on March 31, 2010. This opposition will occur during Northern Spring and Southern Autumn on Mars, so primarily observable will be the Northern hemisphere of Mars.'

Another date to look forward to is August 14/15, 2050. On that day, Mars will be about 55.957 million kilometers from Earth--another very close proximity to Mars, like in 2003 [SEDS statistics].

You will be able to see the planet Mars if you look toward the east at sunset. Mars will be within the constellation Cancer, and just to the left of the Moon.

Page two continues with information on its apparent magnitude (brightness), along with a sky map of the evening sky.

Mars will appear as bright as a First Magnitude star. It will be especially noticeable if you use a medium-size backyard telescope for the viewing of Mars.

But, you don't necessarily need a telescope--binoculars can be used, too, for a pretty decent view of the planet.

First magnitude stars are the brightest stars that we see in the night sky. They range from +1 (least bright of the first magnitude stars) to 0 (medium) to -1 (most bright) in magnitude.

For instance, the star Sirius (9 Alpha CMa) has a magnitude of -1.44. Mars will have a magnitude of -1.3, making it just a little bit less bright than Sirius.

And, Sirius will be relatively close to Mars during this time of viewing. Sirius will appear bluish in color and will twinkle like a star, while Mars will appear orangish (maybe we should call it the Orange Planet) and doesn't twinkle.

See a sky map of the eastern night sky on Friday, January 29, 2010, at a NASA website.

When viewing Mars with a telescope, you should be able to see such features as the Martian Northern Polar Cap, the Huygens Crater, and the Hellas Basin.

The region of the northern polar cap will be displaying a bluish tint as carbon dioxide in the ice caps begin to evaporate (with the coming summer season) and interact with the polar clouds.

Check out the 1.26.2010 NASA media release 'Close Encounter with Mars,' for approximate locations of these physical features on the planet.

Page three concludes with the reason why Friday, January 29, might be an even better time to watch Mars in the night sky than Wednesday, January 27, 2010.

According to the NASA article, 'For visual observers, the best display comes on Friday, Jan. 29th, when the full Moon and Mars converge for a floodlamp-bright conjunction.'

And, 'On that night, Mars will be at opposition'”i.e., directly opposite the sun. It will rise alongside the Moon at sunset and soar overhead at midnight, never straying more than about 6 [degrees] from the first full Moon of 2010...."

"To the unaided eye, Mars will resemble a bright orange star.'

To learn more about the planet Mars, please go to the NASA website 'Mars: NASA Explores the Red Planet' and the Space.com website 'All About Mars.'


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