Mars will be super close to Earth on Friday night, so do yourself a favor and look up
If you head outside on Friday night, you’ll see a twinkling red orb close to the moon. It’s not the Red Comet signaling the return of dragons — it’s Mars. From July 27th to July 30th, Mars will make its close approach to Earth and appear brighter than it has all year. And on July 31st, Mars will reach its brightest and biggest point as it comes closest to Earth in its orbit.
Although we’ve already been able to see Mars twinkling in the night sky for the past few weeks, the planet will officially enter into opposition on the 27th, meaning the sun, Earth, and Mars will be aligned. This cosmic phenomenon happens about once every two years.
But this year, due to its elliptical orbit, Mars will be the closest to Earth that is has been since 2003 — and 2003 was a big year for the Red Planet. In August that year, Mars came closer to Earth than it had in almost 60,000 years. Experts at NASA predict that Mars won’t come that close to our home planet again until the year 2287.
On the 31st, Mars is expected to be about 35.8 million miles away from Earth, NASA reports. The closest it can possibly get to Earth is 33.9 million miles, and it’s usually about 140 million miles away.
This cosmic event is particularly exciting because some huge Mars-related news just made headlines: Scientists and researchers have found evidence that water is present on the Red Planet. They believe an entire lake is sitting just under the planet’s south polar ice cap.
Researchers have been looking for water on Mars for years to no avail. Evidence that water had once existed on the cooling surface was found, but this lake is the first sign that water currently exists on Mars’ surface.
And where there’s water, there might be life.
There’s even more exciting news: On the same night Mars reaches opposition, the moon will also experience its longest total lunar eclipse of the century. It won’t be visible in North America, but stargazers in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia will be treated to a full blood moon.
Mars won’t make a close approach to Earth again until October 2020 — and even then Mars will be farther away than it will be on the 31st. We recommend you head outside in the next few days to catch a glimpse of our planetary neighbor (and maybe give a wave to the potential life residing on it).