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Mars is coming back. The Red Planet, the only one whose surface we can see in any detail from the Earth, has begun the best apparition it will give us until the summer of 2018.
Planet watchers have already begun readying their telescopes.
If this sounds familiar, you might recall a similar setup two years ago. This current apparition of Mars will not be as spectacular as the one in August 2003 when the planet came closer to Earth than it had in nearly 60,000-years.
Mars is currently in the constellation of Aries, the Ram and doesn't rise until around 10:45 p.m. local daylight time. There is certainly no mistaking it once it comes up over the east-southeast horizon. Presently shining at magnitude –0.8, it now ranks fifth among the brightest objects in the night sky, surpassed only by the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Sirius (the brightest star in the sky).
And as it continues to approach Earth, Mars will only be getting brighter in the coming weeks: it will surpass Sirius on Sept. 21 and on Oct. 4 it will rival Jupiter and as a consequence (until Nov. 26), hold forth as the second-brightest planet.
Late on the night of Aug. 24, Mars will hover below and to the right of the waning gibbous Moon. As you will see for yourself, the so-called Red Planet actually will appear closer to a yellow-orange tint – the same color of a dry desert under a high sun.
This time around, Mars comes closest to the Earth on the night of Oct. 29 (around 11:25 p.m. Eastern daylight time). The planet will then lie 43,137,071 miles (69,422,386 kilometers) from Earth measured center to center. Mars will arrive at opposition to the Sun (rising at sunset, setting at sunrise) nine days later, on Nov. 7.