Mars Opposition - 2005
During the autumn of 2005, Mars will be just as bright as it was during
the opposition of 2003, but, this year, the time frame is shifted to
Mars will be rising in the east around midnight during July and August.
By October, it will be rising at sunset. Once above the horizon, it will
be the brightest object in the sky, a bright red-orange "star". It will
be brighter in a pair of binoculars, but you will need a telescope to
see any detail.
Mars Opposition will be in early November, which means it will be
directly overhead at midnight, local time, on November 7.
The Mars Year - 2003
During August 2003, Mars, the Red Planet, will be closer to Earth
than it has ever been before in recorded history. On the date of closest
approach, August 28, 2003, Mars will be only 55.8 million kilometers
from Earth, little more than 1/3 of an Astronomical Unit (AU). An
astronomical unit is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun,
about 165 million kilometers. This will be the closest together Mars and
Earth have been in the last 100,000 years!
of Mars 1988-2003
This chart by C.F. Chapin shows the
relative positions of Mars and Earth for the years 1988 to 2003. The
last great opposition of Mars was 1988. On August 28, 2003, Mars will be
at its closest approach to Earth in recorded history, at a distance of
only 34,646,418 miles.
Click on image for
A Great Event to Observe
While the orbit of Earth around the Sun is very nearly circular, the
orbit of Mars is not. During opposition, when the Earth and Mars lie in
line with the Sun, the distance between the two planets varies
considerably from year to year depending on Mars’ position in its orbit.
If Mars comes to opposition when it is farthest from the Sun (at
aphelion), it will lie 61 million miles from Earth. But if Mars reaches
opposition when it is closest to the Sun (at perihelion), it will lie
only 34.6 million miles from Earth. Perihelic oppositions occur every
fifteen to seventeen years. In August and September 2003, Mars will
reach perihelic opposition again.
Because of the way Mars’ orbit is
located in space, the very closest oppositions occur when we see Mars
against the stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius, the southernmost
constellations on the ecliptic. Thus, the best oppositions occur when
Mars is too far south for good viewing in the Northern Hemisphere. This
is what happened in 1988: the opposition was very close, but Mars was
low in the sky in the northern hemisphere. But in 2003, Mars will be
higher up, the light from Mars will reach us via a shorter path through
Earth’s atmosphere, and we will have a better, sharper view of the
planet during the current opposition.
Observing with Filters
Sketching What You See
Mars Observing Form
AAAA Mars Card
Mars is the fourth planet of the Solar System. Oxidized crystalline
rocks on the surface of Mars give it it's tinged blood-red color. Ares
was the Greek God of War. Named Mars by the Romans, the god enjoyed the
portfolio of both War and Agriculture. So important was Mars to the
Romans that the first month of the Roman year, March, was named after
him. The two moons of Mars are named after his two sons, Phobos and
Deimos (Fear & Panic). The only other object so red in the night sky is
a red star in the constellation Scorpius that the ancients named Antares
(Anti-Ares). In India, Mangal (Mars) represents anger, aggression,
ambition, courage, and roguery. A Hindu marriage is not complete without
the Mangal sutra, a necklace made from blood red corals.
NASA Photo Mars 2001.