Mars, Earth, sun line up perfectly in sky this weekend

May 19, 2016 by By Marcia Dunn
This Aug. 26, 2003 image made available by NASA shows Mars as it lines up with the Sun and the Earth. Photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, it was about 55.8 million kilometers (34.6 million miles) from Earth. (NASA/J. Bell - Cornell U./M. Wolff - SSI via AP)

Last week, Mercury stole the show. Now it's Mars' turn.

On Sunday morning, Mars, Earth and the sun will line up perfectly in the sky. This once-every-two-years event is called Mars opposition. That's because Mars and the sun will be on opposite sides of Earth.

Right now, Mars is about 48 million miles from us, coming ever closer until May 30, when the red planet passes within 46.8 million miles. That will be Mars' closest approach in 10 1/2 years. In 2018, Mars will get a lot chummier, passing within a mere 36 million miles.

The modern-day record of 34.6 million miles between Earth and Mars was set in 2003. That won't be surpassed until the year 2287, according to NASA.

At the other end of the scale, Earth and Mars can be as much as 249 million miles apart when they wind up on opposite sides of the sun every couple years.

May is proving a busy month for stargazers.

On May 9, Mercury passed directly between Earth and the sun, resembling a black dot against our vast, bright star.

Telescopes or high-powered binoculars were needed to see that Mercury transit, which occurs just 13 times or so a century. Nothing fancy is needed to gaze upon Mars—just your eyes.

Sky-watchers, gazing to the southeast at nightfall, can enjoy a brighter, seemingly bigger Mars well into June. A full moon, on May 21, will add to the viewing pleasure.

The Hubble Space Telescope already is zooming in for pictures. On Thursday, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore released a snapshot of Mars taken May 12 from 50 million miles out. The stunning image shows details as small as 20 to 30 miles across.

Explore further: Mars—closest, biggest, and brightest in a decade

More information: NASA: mars.nasa.gov/allaboutmars/nightsky/

Related Stories

Mars—closest, biggest, and brightest in a decade

May 19, 2016

Look low in the southeast at nightfall, and an unusually bright, fire-yellow "star" will be staring back at you. It's the planet Mars, closer to Earth now than it has been since November 2005.

Image: Kaleidoscopic view of Mars

July 22, 2014

Astrophotographer Leo Aerts from Belgium took advantage of the recent opposition of Mars and captured the Red Planet both "coming and going" in this montage of images taken from October 2013 to June of 2014. Mars reached ...

Star Trak: May 2016

April 29, 2016

Mars will have its best opposition in more than a decade in May.

The opposition of Mars

March 28, 2014

By the time you finish reading this story, you'll be about 1,000 km closer to the planet Mars.

Close encounters: Comet siding spring seen next to mars

October 23, 2014

(Phys.org) —This composite NASA Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October ...

Stunning conjunction of Mars and Beta Scorpii this week

March 15, 2016

Planets can sneak up on you. Especially the ones that don't rise till you're in bed. Take Mars for instance. It's been ambling east along the morning zodiac all winter long; today it enters Scorpius, rising around 1:30 a.m. Not ...

Recommended for you

Sprawling galaxy cluster found hiding in plain sight

August 16, 2018

MIT scientists have uncovered a sprawling new galaxy cluster hiding in plain sight. The cluster, which sits a mere 2.4 billion light years from Earth, is made up of hundreds of individual galaxies and surrounds an extremely ...

Hubble paints picture of the evolving universe

August 16, 2018

Astronomers using the ultraviolet vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have captured one of the largest panoramic views of the fire and fury of star birth in the distant universe. The field features approximately 15,000 ...

Unusual doughnut-shaped jet observed in the galaxy NGC 6109

August 15, 2018

Astronomers from the University of Bristol, U.K., have uncovered an unusual doughnut-shaped jet in the radio galaxy NGC 6109. It is the first time that such a jet morphology has been observed in a low-power radio galaxy. ...

Iron and titanium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

August 15, 2018

Exoplanets, planets in other solar systems, can orbit very close to their host stars. When the host star is much hotter than the sun, the exoplanet becomes as hot as a star. The hottest "ultra-hot" planet was discovered last ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.