Skywatchers will be treated to their closest view of Mars in 17 years on Tuesday night, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Red Planet will be seen hanging low in the southern sky as it reaches “opposition,” meaning the Sun and Mars are on opposite sides of the Earth, according to JPL.
Oppositions take place roughly every two years or so, NASA said in a written statement. “But because planetary orbits are elliptical, not all oppositions are the same.”
Only once every 15 years Mars reaches its point of opposition — the closest point in its orbit to Earth — at the same time it reaches its closest point to the sun, or its perihelion, according to NASA. And that celestial coincidence takes place Tuesday night.
The last time Mars was this close to Earth, and even a bit closer, was in 2003, NASA officials said.
Mars opposition coinciding with perihelion will next occur in 2035.
While Mars reaches its closest point to Earth Tuesday night, it will continue to appear prominently in the southern night sky for weeks to come.
More information is available online at jpl.nasa.gov/edu/events/2020/10/13/mars-rises-and-sets-opposite-the-sun and at https://mars.nasa.gov/all-about-mars/night-sky/opposition/