Look Up! Mars To Have Closest Approach For 2020 on October 5-13!

On almost any night without fail, an eager viewer will ask, “Where is Mars?” “When can I see Mars?” Well, October 2020 is your month, and from October 5-13, Mars will put on a bright display in the sky!

So What’s Going On?

Imagine two cars on a cosmic circular race track, with one car always on the shorter lane moving at 18 miles per second (28 km/s) and the other on the longer lane moving at 14 mi/s (24 km/s). That is Earth and Mars respectively. Every time Earth completes a “lap,” in 365.25 Earth days Mars does so in 687 Earth days or 668 sols (Martian days). The events when Earth “laps” Mars usually happen every 26 months.

While this close approach will not be as historically close as Mars got in July of 2018 (it was closer by about 2.77 million miles {4.469 million km}), Mars will still put on a stellar show for anyone wanting to catch it out.

Mars spent most of 2019 on the other side of the Sun in its orbit through our solar system, and throughout 2020 Earth has gradually moved closer to Mars. This passing will culminate on October 13, when Mars will reach opposition. We call these events oppositions because Mars will be completely opposite Earth and the Sun.

Due to both planets having elliptical orbits, the actual date that Earth will be closest to Mars will be the night of October 5-6, when at 6:47 UTC (2:47 Eastern / 23:47 Pacific), the distance between the two planets will be about 38.56 million miles (62.065 million km). By the actual opposition night on October 13, the distance will have increased by about 340,000 miles (540,000 km).

So I’m an Aries and Mars is my Ruling….

NO!!! this is NOT an astrology website!

Is it true that Mars will appear as big as a Full Moon?

When will that hoax die already?!

So… How Do I Catch Mars in the Sky?

To the naked eye, Mars will be a bright reddish beacon in the sky, seen low in the east after dark. As objects rise at sunset and set at sunrise during opposition nights, Mars will be visible all night for October 13-14. You’ll find it in front of the constellation Pisces, which itself is a dim constellation and invisible from cities. Around local midnight (or 1 AM thanks to DST), Mars will be high in the sky. During these events, Mars will outshine Jupiter, and of course be the brightest object for the night after Venus and the Moon.

Mars 1

Through a telescope is where things will get better. When Mars is close, its apparent size through a telescope is significantly bigger than it usually looks, and if the conditions are good enough, you may catch a polar ice cap or two, plus some darker albedo features on Mars. Most viewers will be surprised to see that the planet doesn’t look very red or rusty through a telescope, and that’s because the extra light a telescope gathers is what can make the planet look a little overexposed.

To have a chance at seeing features on Mars, it needs to be viewed at high magnification. It will be best to check Mars out around midnight local time, as it will be highest in the sky, and have much less haze and sludge to shine through, hopefully improving your local seeing conditions and making sharp views at high magnification possible. Viewing Mars when its low in the sky is only asking for disappointment.

When Mars had the close approach in 2018, the red planet was subject to a global sandstorm, which covered the entire planet and made features super difficult to see. Yours truly wasn’t really able to see any features until the sandstorm died down a couple weeks later. Let’s hope this year’s close approach is better! 

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