Mars is closer to Earth than it will be for the next 15 years as our planet’s orbit approaches “opposition” with the fourth planet in our solar system.
Earth and Mars orbit the sun at different speeds.
These orbital differences mean that sometimes the planet is closer to Earth than others.
Approximately every 26 months the planet is in “opposition”, meaning that from our perspective, the sun is directly opposite Mars with Earth in between.
When the sun sets, Mars rises in the night sky.
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This is one of those times (and is the reason several missions to Mars have been launched in recent months by the UAE, China and the US, though another US mission was recently delayed due to the coronavirus).
Saturn and Jupiter were in opposition earlier this year.
Mars is currently making a close approach to Earth, coming within 62.1 million kilometres of our planet.
It’s not expected to come this close again until 2035.
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Next week, the actual Mars opposition is expected to occur on October 13, but before then you’ll be able to spot the planet in the night sky, provided you have the right viewing conditions (though you shouldn’t need a fancy telescope).
It’s highest in the sky at around midnight, and would be visible as a small red or orange dot.
If you can get away from light pollution from street lights and buildings, lie on your back and give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness to get the best view of the red planet.