Mark your calendars for a Mars close approach on Oct. 6 and opposition on Oct. 13.
Forget Halloween. This October is all about the glory of Mars. The glimmering red planet will put on a show in the night sky.
You can enjoy Mars as a bright point of light all month long, but there are two special dates to mark on your calendar: Oct. 6 when the planet makes a close approach to Earth, and Oct. 13, when it will be in opposition.
Mars has a reputation as the “red” planet, but its color in the night sky is a little more on the Halloween side of the spectrum. It appears as a bright orange-red dot to the naked eye, like a little spot of glittering rust.
Mars’ distinctive color is one clue you’ve found it in the dark. Look to the eastern sky to catch it rising at night. It will look bright this month if your local weather cooperates to give you a good view.
Tuesday, Oct. 6 marks a close approach of Mars to Earth. This would be a great time to grab a telescope and get a little better look. Give a wave 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 view of of the Tuesday, Oct. 6 close approach compared with the last time it snuggled up 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), which is about 3 million miles farther away than in 2018.
This artist’s view shows the apparent sizes of Mars during close approaches in 2018 and 2020.
When Mars and the sun line up with Earth in the middle, the red planet is said to be in opposition. This is a perfect time to track Mars’ movement across the sky. It will rise in the east as the sun goes down, move across the sky and then set in the west as the sun comes up.
NASA describes opposition as “effectively a ‘full’ Mars.” Tuesday, Oct. 13 is the time to enjoy opposition. You’ll have to wait over two years for it to happen again.
“The racetrack model of planetary orbits 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, speedy Earth catches up to slower Mars and laps it. Opposition occurs just as Earth takes the lead.”
Mars isn’t the only show-off in the sky for October. You can also look forward to a rare Halloween blue moon when our lunar neighbor is full on Oct. 31. It’s not spooky; it’s boo-tiful.
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Mars, Sky, Blue moon
World news – US – How to watch Mars rule the October night sky with a close approach to Earth