This July, Mars will shine brighter than it has in 15 years — Here’s why

Come late July, the Red Planet is expected to outshine Jupiter and beam brighter than it has since 2003.

» RELATED: 'Building blocks of life' found on Mars, NASA reveals in new Curiosity rover announcement

According to Space.com, Mars has been making its approach to Earth and beginning in early June and through July and August, skywatchers may even be able to catch "a brilliant orange-red 'star' shining steady light." But that's no star.

On Friday, July 27, the planet will be in opposition to the sun in Earth’s sky, 51 days before it passes through perihelion, when its orbit will reach its closest point to the sun. Its closest approach to our planet will be on Tuesday, July 31.

» RELATED: Robotic bees on Mars? NASA's newest plan for the Red Planet

From a distance of only 35.8 million miles, Mars will radiate at a magnitude of about -2.78, shining nearly twice as bright as Jupiter and second only to Venus.

The reason behind the fluctuating brightness has to do with the planet’s proximity to Earth during both planets’ orbits around the sun.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

"Sometimes Earth and Mars are on the same side of the solar system, and hence near one another. At other times, as it was throughout most of 2017, Mars is far across the solar system from us," EarthSky.org reported.

» RELATED: Scientists find thick sheets of ice just below Mars' surface

While Earth takes one year to orbit the sun once, it takes Mars about two years. So opposition for Mars (when Earth passes between Mars and the sun) occurs every two years and 50 days, and the planet’s brightness is determined by where the worlds’ orbits around the giant star align.

The last opposition, when Mars came within only 47 million miles of Earth, was on May 22, 2016. In 2003, the planet came within 34.6 million miles — the Earth's closest approach to Mars since Sept. 24, 57,617 B.C. (the Stone Age!)

The next opposition will arrive in 2020, and Mars will be within 38.6 million miles of Earth.

Explore» RELATED: Breathtaking NASA time-lapse shows how much Earth has changed over 20 years

How to see Mars shine bright this July

Folks in South America, South Africa and Australia will get the best views of the Red Planet in all its radiating glory this July.

For those in the United States, Mars may be too low in the sky, even at its highest point (1 a.m. local daylight time).

» RELATED: Space X: Elon Musk reveals plan to build city on Mars

"When you look through a telescope with an eyepiece magnifying 75 power, Mars' disk will appear as large as the disk of the moon to the unaided eye," according to Space.com.

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has been exploring the planet since it landed in August 2012 to determine whether the planet was ever able to support microbial life. Learn more about the Mars mission at mars.nasa.gov.

About the Author