• Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

Dimancherouge

Technology

Mars will burn bright in the sky tonight as it reaches opposition

Ultra realisic 3d rendering of Mars and Milky way in the backround. Image uses large 46k textures for detailed appereance of the planet surface. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
Mars will burn brightly in the sky as it reaches opposition (Getty/NASA)

Mars will shine in the sky on Tuesday night as the planet lines up with Earth, looking big and bright as it reaches “opposition”.

Every 26 months, the two planets move close together, until Earth lines up with Mars on the same side of the sun. 

Tuesday night sees the moment of opposition, with the planets lining up at just after 11pm. 

At that point, Mars should be visible to the south east from the UK, astrophotographer Damian Peach told the BBC. 

Peach said, “Even at nine or 10 o’clock in the evening, you’ll easily see it over in the southeast. You can’t miss it, it’s the brightest star-like object in that part of the sky.”

The Red Planet actually made its closest approach to our planet on 6 October, when it was 38,586,816 miles away from Earth (very close, for Mars).

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But at opposition, it looks bigger and brighter, NASA explained.  

“During opposition, Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth. From our perspective on our spinning world, Mars rises in the east just as the sun sets in the west,” NASA said.

“Then, after staying up in the sky the entire night, Mars sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east. Since Mars and the sun appear on opposite sides of the sky, we say that Mars is in ‘opposition’.”

NASA takes advantage of close approaches of Mars to launch new missions to the planet, with its new Perseverance rover launching this summer.

In 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years, coming within 34.65 million miles of us.

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Spacecraft from several nations are currently on the way to Mars, including NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which is scheduled to land there in February.

NASA’s next-generation robotic rover – a car-sized six-wheeled vehicle carrying seven scientific instruments – also is scheduled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and try out equipment for future human treks to the fourth planet from the sun.

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Its arrival at Mars is planned for 18 February at the site of an ancient river delta.

The mission marks NASA’s ninth journey to the Martian surface.

Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep crater called Jezero, site of a former lake and water system from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life.

Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harboured life.

Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

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