Spectacular Mars at Closest Approach & Opposition
Tonight – on the night of July 30-31, 2018 – the red planet Mars comes closer to the Earth than it has since its historically close approach on August 27, 2003. It lies 35.78 million miles from Earth on July 31, 2018.
This is Mars closest point for this year. That’s in spite of the fact that the Earth passed between Mars and the Sun - the Mars opposition - on July 27.
Mars is out almost all night long now. It looks like a bright reddish star, shining with a steadier light than the twinkling stars. Look for Mars in the eastern sky at nightfall – highest in the sky near midnight – and in the west as morning dawn starts to light the sky. It is now shining more brilliantly than the planet Jupiter, and it’s not very often that Mars outshines the king planet!
Mars orbit around the sun takes 687 days in contrast to 365 days for Earth. It has a year, nearly twice as long as ours. Mars will be closest to the sun next on September 16, 2018. Right now, with each moment that passes, Mars is still drawing closer to the Sun. And that is how its distance from us can be less on July 31 than on July 27, when Earth passed between the sun and Mars.
Tonight’s close encounter between the Earth and Mars will be the closest until around the time of the Martian opposition on September 15, 2035. Mars always comes closest to the Earth in the vicinity of opposition. The time interval between a Mars opposition and its least distance from Earth can be as long as 8.5 days, or as little as 10 minutes.