Next Friday, on July 27th 2018, Mars reaches opposition where it lines up directly opposite the Sun from the Earth. It then makes its closest approach to Earth a few days later on July 31st. During this time, Mars will appear brighter and larger than usual.
Oppositions of Mars happen roughy every 26 months but what makes this one more special is that the Red Planet will be at its brightest since 2003 when it made the closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years.
Viewing Mars at Opposition
The Moon will be full on July 27th which will make it easy to find Mars. Looking to the south-east between 11 and 12 pm, Mars will be the bright object close to the Moon – about a fist width lower and to the south.
Mars is close to the horizon during this year’s opposition – just a bit above 10° – so you will need a clear view to the south-east to see it. The low altitude also impairs telescopic views more than usual due to additional atmospheric turbulence.
RASC volunteers will have telescopes trained on Mars and available for public viewing at the Starry Nights Event at Simon Fraser University on Friday, July 27th. The event starts at 09:00 pm but Mars will not be visible until after 11:00 pm.
Unfortunately, a global dust storm has also been obscuring telescopic views of the planet since May 30th, 2018. Some amateur imagers in the Southern Hemisphere have recently reported that the dust may be subsiding and have been able to capture impressive surface detail.
The best time to go to Mars is around its closest approach so that the travel distance is minimized. Many Mars missions have taken advantage of the close distance to visit the planet and 2018 is no exception – NASA’s InSight mission launched on May 5th, 2018. This mission aims to land a probe on Mars in November that will investigate the interior. The rocket that launched InSight also launched a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These briefcase-sized CubeSats fly on their own path to Mars behind InSight.