Stargazers in the northern hemisphere are in for a treat this week as Mars reaches its closest point to Earth, giving the best view of the red planet until the 2030s. Mars makes its closest approach to Earth on the night of November 30 to December 1, but the best view yet to come as the planet reaches a point called opposition on the night of December 7 to December 8 opposition is when Mars is directly opposite. the sun as seen from Earth, which means this is when Mars will be at its brightest.
The reason that the closest approach and opposition are several days apart is because of the elliptical nature of the planet’s orbit. Neither Earth nor Mars orbits in a perfect circle around the sun, so there are times when they are slightly closer or further away. This small difference caused a delay of several days between the closest approach and the opposition. The elliptical nature of Mars’ orbit is also why there will be a great display of the planet this week. Mars will not come close to Earth again until 2033.
This diagram from the Royal Astronomy Society in England shows how to find Mars in the night sky on the evening of December 8. Mars should be one of the brightest objects in the sky, so if you are lucky to have clear weather overhead at night then. You should easily be able to see the planets with binoculars or a telescope. At this time, Mars would be about 50 million miles away.
December 8 is also a good time to look for Mars because you can see the moon moving in front of the planet, called an occultation, depending on where you are in the northern hemisphere. For exact times to see this event by US region, go to Sky and Telescope for more information.
According to Sky at Night magazine, you should be able to observe Mars with almost any telescope, but adding a Barlow lens to your setup will give you a better view and enhance the darker and lighter patches on the planet. You can see features on Mars like its polar ice caps, light and dark spots called albedo features, and even certain large geological features like basins and plateaus.
Some of the most dramatic views of Mars will be on the night of December 8th, but if that doesn’t work for you then you should also look to the sky in the week before and after this date because you still have to be able to. get a good show then.