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Tonight Will Offer the Brightest Look at Mars in a Decade

Tonight’s “Mars opposition” will offer a rare, vivid look at the rusty red planet.
May 22, 2016, 5:37pm
Image: Ryan Wick.

In a planetary alignment befitting the most retro sci-fi movies, tonight's "Mars opposition" will showcase the planet in its shining, red glory. May 22 marks the Earth's passage directly between Mars and the Sun. As a result, the red planet will glow about 80 times brighter than usual.

Although the Mars opposition occurs every 26 months, the planet's elliptical orbit will bring it closer to Earth than it's been in over a decade. By May 30, Mars will be a short 47 million miles away, nearly 100 million miles closer than its average distance.

In August 2003, the red planet reached its nearest measurable proximity to Earth at a mere 35 million miles. Only 60,000 years ago, NASA reports, did Mars fly closer. Its 2003 distance will go unchallenged until August 2287.

Tonight, since the Sun will be positioned directly opposite Mars, the planet will shine around 7 times more splendidly than Saturn, EarthSky reports. Mars will be easy to spot nearby the bright star Antares in the constellation Scorpius' head.

On the heels of last night's Blue Moon, this weekend has offered some stunning astral opportunities. So, head to a nearby field or dig out your dad's dusty telescope around 9pm EST to see Mars in rare form.

If you're planning on catching tonight's Game of Thrones, you can watch a stream of the Mars opposition here. In any case, Mars will be prime for viewing for another few weeks due to its uncommon proximity.