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Friday, November 27, 2015

Earthsky Tonight – January 29, 2010 Mars at opposition, near closest full moon

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

Mars at opposition and near the closest full moon
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Two major astronomical events fall within 10 hours of each other tonight.

First, the planet Mars – the world most like Earth in our solar system – reaches opposition at 8 p.m. London time tonight. Second, the closest full moon of the year comes tomorrow at 6 a.m. London time – that’s around midnight tonight for us in the central U.S.

What’s more, the moon is close to Mars tonight. Everyone around the world can expect to see a full-looking moon and brilliant, reddish planet Mars near each other from dusk until dawn. To find Mars tonight, simply look for the moon. That bright star-like object near tonight’s moon will be Mars, the next planet outward from Earth and the 4th planet outward from the sun.

The moon and Mars are near each other for good reason. The moon looks full when it’s most directly opposite the sun in Earth’s sky. And, because it’s now at opposition, Mars is also most directly opposite of the sun in our sky. So the moon and Mars are near each other tonight, on this special night.

The moon and Mars are both about at their closest to Earth now, but they’re nowhere near each other in space. This year’s closest full moon is less than 360,000 kilometers away. Mars is nearly 100 million kilometers from Earth now – it’s about 62 million miles distant.

Why is Mars so close now? The answer is that Earth – in its smaller, faster orbit around the sun – is passing between the sun and Mars today. So look for Mars and the moon tonight. These two worlds will rise in the east around sunset – be highest in the sky around midnight – and they’ll set in the west tomorrow around sunrise.

Written by Bruce McClure

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