Keep an eye on the sky – Mars will be at its biggest and brightest in 15 years this July

Mars will be at its biggest and brightest since 2003 at the end of July 2018.


Mars will be at its biggest and brightest since 2003 at the end of July 2018.

Over the next two months, Kiwis will be treated to Mars appearing bigger and brighter in the night sky.

For the first time since 2003, Mars will be at its closest to the Earth making it more visible to the naked eye.

This celestial event happens roughly every 17 years and while it won’t be quite as close as it was in 2003, which was the closest the planet came to Earth in 60,000 years, the view will still be one to look out for.

The reason for Mars coming closer to Earth is down to a phenomenon called perihelic opposition – when Earth passes directly between Mars and the sun.

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Kiwis will be able to catch a good view of the red planet for several weeks starting near the end of July.

Stardome astronomy educator and astrophotographer, Josh Kirkley said Mars would appear in the sky as an “extremely bright orange star”.

“It will be brighter than any other star, only Venus will be brighter, but Mars is more easy to recognise due to the distinct red colouring.

“Mars is currently rising in the east a few hours after sunset, and will rise earlier as the month goes on and we get closer to opposition.”

Kirkley said the actual night of opposition would occur on July 27 and Mars would remain in the sky for the entire night.

“The planet will be close enough to resolve surface features and ice caps for about a week on each side of this date through a telescope.

“You will still be able to see Mars without a telescope, as it is visible for most of the year as a bright orange star-like point of light.”

To celebrate the occasion, Stardome is hosting an array of Mars-related events in July and August, with their Zeiss telescope open for extended hours so Kiwis can get a good view. 

Kirkley said the opposition would be exciting for anyone interested in space.

“Usually Mars is a hard planet to see even with a telescope due to its small size but the opposition will give us a chance to really see the surface of another planet, which I find incredible.”

“Seeing another world’s surface with your own eyes in a telescope is an amazing experience and I may not get the chance to photograph this again for another 17 or so years, so I’m really excited,” he said.

The next time Mars will come this close to Earth is estimated to be in 2035.

The best times to view Mars:

July 4 (11pm – 1am) and (3am – 5am)

July 11 (11pm – 1am) and (3am – 5am)

July 18 (10pm – 12am) and (2am – 5am)

July 25 (9pm – 12am) and (2am – 4am)

Aug 1 (9pm – 11pm) and (1am – 4am)

Aug 8 (8pm – 10pm) and (1am – 3am)

Aug 15 (8pm – 10pm) and (1am – 3am)

Aug 22 (8pm – 9pm) and (12am – 2am)

Aug 29 (8pm – 9pm) and (11pm – 1pm)

 – Stuff

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