Mars was at its closest distance to Earth at 38.5 million miles earlier this morning. At magnitude of -2.61, observers with backyard telescopes can expect to see the Mars with more detail than it will exhibit for 15 years, especially after midnight, when the planet will be due south. Mars will be brighter than nearby Jupiter.
After today, Mars will officially reach opposition on October 13. The bright red planet will rise from the east at sunset (6:27 p.m.), climb to its highest position, 49° above the southern horizon (1 a.m.), and set in the west at sunrise (7:26 a.m.). At opposition, Mars will shine at visual magnitude of -2.62. Although it will be farther from Earth at distance of 38.57 million miles than it was on October 6, Mars will still be an impressive sight.
What is a planetary opposition? Opposition marks the middle of the best time of year to see an outer planet. It’s when Earth is passing between an outer planet and the sun, placing the planet opposite the sun in our sky. A planet at opposition is closest to Earth, and it rises when the sun sets and can be viewed throughout the night.
Mars oppositions occur approximately every 25.5 months. Because of the two planets’ elliptical orbits, even at each opposition the distance between Earth and Mars can vary by almost 31 million miles.
After opposition, Mars will steadily diminish in brightness, but it will impressive for observing for rest of 2020. Mars will not reach solar conjuction until October 8, 2021.
So enjoy Mars in October 2020! You won’t see it this bright again until September 2035.