Red planet Mars will be seen as the biggest and brightest from Earth tomorrow, offering a celestial treat for skygazers. The planet will also form an opposition with Earth. Opposition takes place when Earth lies directly between Mars and Sun.
The best time to watch the opposition will be at 01:37 AM tomorrow.
Mars comes close to Earth once in every two years. The distance between the red planet and the Earth will be 0.6639 Astronomical Units during its opposition.
On Wednesday, Mars was closest to Earth. The planet appears 14.3 arc seconds in diameter (1/125th of the full moon disk seen with naked eyes), he said. In comparison, Mars was 15.8 arc seconds in December 2007 during its last opposition.
Mars takes about 687 days to complete one revolution around the Sun, whereas Earth takes around 365 days. So there is a difference of speeds at which both planets move around the Sun and that accounts for Mars being further away or closer to Earth, Director of Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators C. B. Devgun said.
To view the planet, just point the telescope towards the eastern skies and one can see a distinct, reddish disc, Mr. Devgun said.
The planet gets its red colour from rust - iron oxide - which makes up about 10 per cent of Martian soil.
“Another interesting thing to look out at the time of opposition is that Mars goes through its retrograde motion and later returns to its regular prograde motion - making interesting loops in the sky,” Nehru Planetarium Director N. Rathnasree said.
The next opposition of Mars will be on March 3, 2012 and the next time it comes closest to Earth will be March 5, 2012. The last time it was close to Earth was December 24, 2007.