How to watch Mars move closer to Earth on Tuesday night

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Mars will be bright and beautiful in the October 2020 night sky. NASA

Forget Halloween. October 2020 is all about the glory of Mars, as the glittering red planet puts on a show in the night sky. You can take advantage of Mars as a bright spot throughout the month, but mark two dates on your calendar: October 6 when the planet is approaching Earth, and October 13, when it is in opposition.

Spot Mars

Mars has a reputation for being the “red” planet, but its color in the night sky is a bit more on the Halloween side of the spectrum. It appears to the naked eye as a bright orange red dot, like a small speck of sparkling rust.

The distinctive color of Mars is a clue that you have found it in the dark. Look at the eastern sky to see it rise at night. Now is a great time to see the planet, in part because spotting it is so easy. It should be visible most of the night. As NASA says, “just go out and look up and, depending on the local weather and lighting conditions, you should be able to see Mars.”

Discover our list of stargazing apps if you want additional help locating the planet.

Close approach: October 6

Tuesday October 6 marks the close approach of Mars to Earth. Now would be a great time to grab a telescope and get a better look. Give a sign to NASA’s Perseverance rover while you’re at it. The vehicle is on track to reach the planet in February 2021.

NASA shared an artist’s take on Tuesday October 6’s close-up approach from the last time it huddled in July 2018. The apparent sizes look very similar. This year, Mars will have a minimum distance of 38.6 million miles (62 million kilometers), about 3 million miles further than in 2018.

This artist’s view shows the apparent sizes of Mars during close approaches in 2018 and 2020.

NASA

Opposition: October 13

When Mars and the sun align with Earth in the middle, the red planet is said to be in opposition. Now is the perfect time to follow the movement of Mars across the sky. It will rise in the east at sunset, move across the sky, and then set in the west when the sun rises.

NASA describes the opposition as “effectively a ‘complete’ Mars.” Tuesday, October 13 is the time to take advantage of the opposition. You will have to wait more than two years for this to happen again.

“The planetary orbital circuit model explains why. Earth and Mars are like runners on a track. Earth is on the inside, Mars is on the outside, ”NASA said in its What’s Up blog for October. “Every 26 months, the fast Earth catches up to the slower Mars and spins it around. The opposition arises just as Earth takes the lead. ”

March isn’t the only show in the sky for October. You can also looking forward to a rare blue halloween moon when our lunar neighbor is full on October 31st. It’s not scary; it’s boo-tiful.

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