Between 20 and 22nd of May, the night sky will offer an exquisite view of planets. Just as the Moon will pass the Scorpius constellation, on its right side you could observe Saturn, Antares, and the brightest Mars in the last ten years.
Planet Mars Approaches Earth
The southeast part of the sky will show the most brilliant Mars in years as the planet is now just as close to Earth as it was in 2005. The distance between Mars and us will be at 47.2 million miles and will remain at 48 million miles just until the 12th of June.
On the 21st of May, Mars will be in direct opposition to the Sun while having a full Moon next to it. Due to the elliptic orbit of the planet, the opposition and the minimum distance towards Earth will not happen at the same moment, but within a two days distance.
Mars was even closer to Earth in August 2003, with a distance of only 34 million miles between the centers of both planets. It will come again almost as close in July 2018.
With the help of a telescope, amateur astronomers could see the markings on the planet’s surface, its clouds and also the polar caps.
Sky Triangle in the Scorpius Constellation
Mars will appear just above the Scorpius constellation, where the giant star Antares is shining its red light. The name of Antares means in Greek “anti-Mars” because both the planet and the star have the same red brightness.
Another planet that will join this sky assembly is Saturn, which will show up on the left side of Antares, in a much paler color. The three celestial bodies will stay together just until the first weeks of June. The Moon will appear along with them only this weekend.
The difference in shining between the two planets and the Antares star is explained in the fact that stars are perceived from Earth just like small points, and their light is distorted by the differences in temperature from Earth’s atmosphere, just a few miles above the surface of our planet.
Even fortunate enough to benefit from a close distance and the opposition from the Sun, the brightest Mars is in fact not the shiniest planet from the sky. This place is kept by Jupiter, in the southwestern sky, who is in fact much farther than Mars. But Jupiter compensates by being 20 times larger than Mars in diameter.