Mars is in opposition tonight, and if you look up any time after nightfall, you can see the red planet shining brighter in the sky than it has in 6½ years.
On April 8, the clockwork of our solar system places the Earth between Mars and the sun, so that Mars is positioned directly opposite the sun in our night sky.
The red planet will rise in the eastern sky just as the sun sets in the west, and it will dip below the horizon just as the sun rises.
At the same time, the red planet is also closer to us than it has been since December 2007, so it will appear bigger and brighter than it has in a while.
Due to Mars' elliptical orbit, we actually get closest to the planet on April 14. However, according to Sky and Telescope Magazine, Mars should look basically the same -- bright and yellow-orange -- for the rest of the month.
Mars in opposition will be visible to anyone anywhere on Earth with clear skies, and because it is so bright, it should be pretty easy to find. As night falls, the planet will be the brightest body in the Eastern sky.
Another way to make sure you see the planet is to follow the arc in the big dipper's handle, which points the way to the star Spica, and Mars, just below it.
There's really no excuse not to see Mars in opposition for yourself -- all you have to do is look up. However, if you prefer to do your sky watching online, the astronomy website Slooh.com will be streaming a view of the red plant from a telescope in the Canary Islands. The live broadcast starts at 7 p.m., and will include a discussion about the ongoing mission of the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Happy viewing everyone!
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