The Red Planet will be at its closest point to Earth in nearly 15 years
Chester, Pa. – Stargazers are in for a treat this month as Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in nearly 15 years. The planet will appear brilliant and red/orange in the night sky, outshining Jupiter and most stars.
To see the Red Planet’s surface up close, the Widener University Observatory invites the public to use its 16-inch computerized reflecting telescope. Visitors may attend free 30-minute public viewings on Friday, July 27 at 9:30, 10 or 10:30 p.m., as well as on Monday, July 30 at 9:15, 9:45 or 10:15 p.m.
The close approach can be attributed to what astronomers call an opposition point, which occurs when Mars stands on the exact opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. Hence, Mars rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. Mars will be closest to the Earth on July 31 – four days after the opposition.
“To the unaided eye, Mars will appear brilliant in the sky, but a telescope will reveal features, such as polar caps, deserts and dark markings, as long as dust storms don’t obscure surface views,” said Professor Harry Augensen, director of the Widener Observatory. “I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to view Mars up close.”
Even at its closest point, Mars will be 36 million miles from Earth, or roughly 150 times farther away than the moon. The distance is just shy of the 35 million miles that was noted on Aug. 29, 2003 as the closest viewing position in recorded history. The next opposition won’t occur until Oct. 13, 2020, when Mars will be a bit farther away at 39 million miles.
The Widener University Observatory is located on the 4th floor of Kirkbride Hall on 17th and Walnut Streets in Chester, Pennsylvania. Because space is limited, participants are encouraged to make a reservation. Visit www.widener.edu/stargazing, then select Friday or Monday sessions to fill out the online form, or call 610-499-4003.