Right now Mars appears especially big and bold in the night sky. Its peak brightness, as measured with the magnitude scale used by astronomers, will be –2.8. This means Mars appears twice as bright as Jupiter, which is also prominent now in the southwestern evening sky, and it will continue to outshine Jupiter until the first week of September.
“When you first spot Mars rising in the east after sunset, you’ll be startled by how bright it looks,” notes Diana Hannikainen (pronounced huhn-ih-KY-nen), Sky & Telescope’s Observing Editor. “Its pale orange color is unmistakable.” In fact, Mars really has a reddish-orange hue, caused by rust-colored iron oxides on its surface.
July 31: Because Mars still edging closer to the Sun, roughly 60,000 miles (100,000 km) per day, it continues to come slightly toward Earth for a few days after opposition. So the two planets actually come closest on July 31st. Their surfaces (not centers) will be 35,778,704 miles (57,580,243 km) apart when nearest.
In the sky, Mars is positioned in southern Capricornus, the zodiacal constellation that’s often represented as half goat and half fish. Owing to Earth’s faster orbital motion, for the next month Mars will slowly glide in a retrograde (westward) direction among the stars, toward Sagittarius.
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