Red Planet Rising: Mars Shines Brighter Than It Has in Years

Mars Years Claim Red

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) ( via ).

"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."

MORE: Discovered Quasar Burns 100 Times Brighter Than Entire Milky Way

MORE: Could Alien Life Cope with a Hotter, Brighter Star?