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By the time you finish reading this story, you'll be about 1,000 km closer to the planet Mars. Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter. As March gives way to April, the distance between the two planets is shrinking by about 300 km every minute. When the convergence ends in mid-April, the gulf between Earth and Mars will have narrowed to only 92 million km--a small number on the vast scale of the solar system. Astronomers call this event an "opposition of Mars" because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky. Mars rises in the east at sunset, and soars almost overhead at midnight, shining burnt-orange almost 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star.
There are two dates of special significance:
April 8th is the date of opposition, when Mars, Earth, and the sun are arranged in a nearly-straight line. If the orbits of Mars and Earth were perfectly circular, April 8th would also be the date of closest approach. However, planetary orbits are elliptical--that is, slightly egg-shaped--so the actual date of closest approach doesn't come until almost a week later.
On April 14th, Earth and Mars are at their minimum distance: 92 million km, a 6+ month flight for NASA's speediest rockets. You won't have any trouble finding Mars on this night. The full Moon will be gliding by the Red Planet in the constellation Virgo, providing a can't-miss "landmark" in the midnight sky. Remarkably, on the same night that Mars is closest to Earth, there will be a total lunar eclipse. The full Moon of April 14-15 will turn as red as the Red Planet itself. A video from Science@NASA has the details.
reply to post by Jennyfrenzy
From the chart in your OP it looks like Mars will be much closer in 2018 and 2020. Will it look much bigger in those years than in April's "close" approach, or only a little?edit on 31-3-2014 by Aleister because: (no reason given)