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Mars at the Opposition: The red planet is the biggest and brightest this weekend



On July 27, the Sun, the Earth and the planet Mars will come together for a two-year treatment called "Mars in Opposition". It's a chance to see the red planet in big, bright details

This event is called "opposition" because Mars and Sun will be right across the Earth in this one night.

When celestial objects directly face the sun, they appear brighter in the sky. Mars will shine much brighter than usual.


NASA

The opposition also occurs a few days before the approach of Earth and Mars – the 31st of July. As a result, Mars appears slightly larger in the sky


NASA

In the early evening, you can search for this large, bright and beautiful Mars that rises in the southeastern part of the sky, and then watch it rise higher and higher overnight before using the southwest. (Coincidentally, on July 27, there will also be a total lunar eclipse that most of the world – but not North America – can see.)

And while staring at Mars, you can look at this amazing recent finding: an orbiting one Spaceship has discovered traces of an underground lake near the Mars South Pole. Radar surveys below the Martian surface have revealed that a 12-mile wide area is probably buried with liquid water. Normally at Mars temperatures every water should be frozen solid. But scientists believe that a high concentration of salts has lowered the freezing point. If there is liquid water on Mars, this is an important indication of the possible presence of life on the planet (either now or during the history of Mars).

Scientists are not sure what other than water could explain the radar findings, although it would actually require drilling into the surface of Mars to prove the existence of this subterranean lake.

During the opposition, Mars will be visible to the naked eye. But a basic backyard telescope will reveal details of its surface that are harder to see at other times, such as its polar icecaps. (Although planetwide dust storms could obscure the view this year, NASA notes.)

In the week before the last opposition, NASA turned the Hubble Space Telescope on the red planet in 2016. It shows details on the surface normally revealed by interplanetary probes, including clouds over the southern ice cap – "details as small as 20 to 30 miles across," explains NASA .

You will not be able to see Mars with such clear details. But the Hubble image is a reminder: Mars is an incredible planet right next to ours. Try to recognize it yourself!


See, the Cheddar Marble, Mars.
NASA / Hubble

The opposition takes place only every 26 months. But the good news is that Mars should be big and bright for the rest of the summer. If the orbit of Mars takes it farther and farther from the earth, it will appear smaller in the night sky.


NASA


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