If the planet Mars looks a little bigger and brighter tonight in the sky, it’s not just you. On October 13th, 2020, Mars will be in what is called “opposition”. That is when a planet is directly opposite the Sun in reference to the Earth.
That places us in a perfect situation for viewing a much brighter and bolder looking Mars tonight. It will be visible without a telescope but using one will reveal a number of surface features that will be fully lit up with the Sun’s full light shining on the Red Planet. Another plus for stargazers tonight is that while Earth and Mars do not have the same orbit, Mars will also be closest to Earth this month, a mere ~ 40 million miles away. Mars will appear 7 times brighter than on a usual night! Basically, our next door neighbor saying hi for some coffee.
Since Mars' orbit is larger and slower than Earth’s, this will be the brightest Mars in our night sky for the next two and a half years! There are many fun facts about Mars, including the fact that the effect of gravity on Mars is roughly a third of what it is on the Earth. Meaning if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you would only weigh 38 pounds on Mars! Talk about a weight loss program!
If you would like to learn more fun facts about our Red Planet neighbor, check out this great website from NASA: https://mars.nasa.gov/all-about-mars/facts/. There you’ll find fun facts and discover new things for you and your kids!