Look Up

Time to take a break from the computer screen and take a look at the night sky. This month, that bright red star near the moon, isn’t actually a star it’s our sister planet Mars. Mars was at opposition (where you have  Mars, Earth and Sun in a straight line with Mars 180 degrees on the other side of the Sun with the Earth in the middle ) earlier on in April. If we were dealing with circular orbits, then opposition would also be the point of closest distance between the Earth and Mars, but it’s not. Mars was at opposition  on April 8th and it was closest to the Earth on April 14th. This celestial alignment happens every ~26 months (reason why missions to Mars launch roughly every 2 years to take advantage of the small distance between the two planets).  You can find a nice description of Mars’ opposition and how it works  here and here.

Even though its’ past the 14th, Mars is still bright in the night sky. With a  telescope or a pair of binoculars you can likely make out some details on the surface including the very diminished Northern Polar Ice Cap. The North of Mars is currently in full swing of summer. You may recall that Northern Summer Solstice (Southern Winter Solstice occurred back in February),so the northern cap has been thawing while the carbon dioxide ice cap on the South Pole has been growing. With the eventual arrival of daylight, seasonal fans and carbon dioxide geysers will popping up again on the South Pole soon enough.

If you need help spotting Mars in the evening sky, this sky guide below by the Dark Sky Hire should help. Even by eye, Mars will have a reddish hue compared to other neighboring stars in the sky.

So in between mapping some fans and blotches tonight, take a break from classifying,  look up, and catch a glimpse of the planet your clicks are helping us to better understand!

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