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Mars at perigee

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Outer Planets feed

Objects: Mars
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The sky at

Mars's orbit around the Sun will carry it to its closest point to the Earth – its perigee – passing within 0.50 AU of us.

Since the size and brightness of Mars in the night sky both increase when it is close to us, the days around its perigee represent the best time to observe it.

This effect is especially pronounced for Mars since it neighbours the Earth in the Solar System, orbiting a little further out from the Sun than us, at an average distance of 1.52 AU. As a result, it has the greatest variation of all the planets in its distance from the Earth, depending on whether the two planets are on opposite sides of the Sun, or passing next to one another in their respective orbits.

Mars reaches perigee at around the time when it passes the Earth in its orbit. At this time, the Sun, Earth and Mars lie in a straight line, with the Earth in the middle.

Consequently, Mars appears almost exactly opposite the Sun in the sky – a configuration called opposition, when Mars reaches its highest point in the sky at midnight and is visible for much of the night.

Every perigee of Mars is associated with a near-simultaneous opposition, but the two events typically occur a few days apart owing to the significant ellipticity of Mars's orbit.

On this occasion, Mars will attain a maximum angular diameter of 18.6 arcsec at closest approach, and a maximum brightness of magnitude -2.0.

Observing Mars

Even at its closest approach to the Earth, it is never possible to distinguish Mars as more than a star-like point of light with the naked eye, though a simple pair of binoculars is sufficient to reveal it as a disk of light.

From Fairfield, it will be visible in the evening sky, becoming accessible around 20:38 (EDT) as the dusk sky fades, 11° above your south-eastern horizon. It will then reach its highest point in the sky at 00:05, 27° above your southern horizon. It will continue to be observable until around 03:54, when it sinks below 8° above your south-western horizon.

Begin typing the name of a town near to you, and then select the town from the list of options which appear below.

A chart of the path of Mars across the sky in 2016 can be found here, and a chart of its rising and setting times here.

The exact position of Mars at the moment it passes perigee will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Mars 15h44m00s -21°23' Libra -2.0 18.6"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 30 May 2016
Sunrise
05:23
Sunset
20:18
Twilight ends
22:20
Twilight begins
03:21

24-day old moon
Waning Crescent

34%

24 days old

Planets
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 04:30 11:20 18:10
Venus 05:19 12:42 20:05
Moon 02:02 07:51 13:39
Mars 19:18 00:06 04:50
Jupiter 12:50 19:20 01:54
Saturn 20:18 01:09 05:56
All times shown in EDT.

Source

The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE405 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

30 May 2016  –  Mars at perigee
29 Oct 2016  –  Mars at perihelion
26 Jul 2017  –  Mars at solar conjunction
05 Aug 2017  –  Mars at apogee

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