April 8, 2014 - If you want to see Mars
at its best, now's your time: This month, the Red Planet looks bigger and brighter
than it has for the past six years.
That may sound like the Great Mars
Hoax — the occasional (and totally false) claim that Mars
will loom as big as the moon in the night sky. But in this case, the claim is totally true. This month, Mars
will have its closest encounter with Earth since December 2007.
The reason has to do with orbital mechanics. As Earth and Mars
trace their elliptical orbits around the sun, the distance between the two planets varies dramatically. There are times when the separation amounts to almost 250 million miles (400 million kilometers). On April 14, that separation narrows to a mere 57 million miles (92 million kilometers).
"These opportunities only come about every two years," said Alan MacRobert, senior editor for Sky & Telescope magazine. "Most of the time, Mars
is pretty darn far away."
A RARE space event will happen this week when Mars will be exactly opposite the sun to the Earth. The cosmic alignment , known as an opposition, will take place on Wednesday April 9 for Australia.
On the day of opposition, Mars, Earth and the sun fall on a straight line. While Mars' orbit of the sun is more elliptical (oval-shaped) than the...