Mars Will Shine Brighter This Summer Than It Has in 15 Years — Here’s Why

For a few weeks in July and August, Mars will be at its closest point to Earth since 2003 and is expected to outshine Venus and Jupiter in the night sky. Not only will Mars illuminate for the casual stargazer, but close proximity to Earth will allow anyone with a telescope to get a more detailed look at the red planet’s unique features.

In 2003, Mars came within 34.9 million miles of Earth, setting a new record that had not been approached in 60,000 years. This summer will be the first time Mars and Earth rekindle that bond, slated to move within 35.8 million miles of each other on July 31, according to The Weather Channel.

NASA illustration of how different Mars can look, depending on its distance to Earth.


Mars opposition, whereby the Earth passes directly between Red Planet, will occur July 27, and happens roughly every 26 months, according to NASA. This year, while the Earth cozies up between Mars and the sun, the red planet will also reach its closest point to the sun in its own orbit. This up-close and personal lineup is a phenomenon known as perihelion, and it’s not every day that opposition takes places within the same weeks as a perihelion. This is known as a perihelic opposition and it only occurs every 15 or 17 years.

Of course, some perihelic oppositions bring us closer to Mars than others. The orbits of Earth and Mars don’t lie on quite the same plane, and gravitational tugging from Jupiter tends to influence Mars’ orbit, meaning we won’t get as close of a reunion with Mars as we saw in 2003, but that record is expected to stand until August 28, 2287.

Mars will be its brightest to the human eye on July 31. The red planet will rise on July 30 at 8:25 p.m. Eastern, showing up Venus and the stars until it sets at 5:18 a.m. Eastern the next morning. The planet will be shining brightly throughout August.

While this celestial happening may not beat the 2003 record, witnessing the perihelic opposition does come with bragging rights. It will be the last time stargazers will see Mars this big and bright for years, as the next time Mars and Earth get this close won’t be until September 15, 2035.

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