Science

How you can see Mars at its closest since 2003

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Step outside at around 10 p.m. on Tuesday and look to the southeast. There, you'll find a bright red object in the sky: Mars. And it's the closest it's been since 2003.

Seeing Mars in the night sky makes for a fantastic sight. And because of its relative proximity (comparatively), it's far brighter than normal — about five times brighter, in fact.

While you don't need binoculars or a telescope to see it, a close-up view is an added treat. And fortunately, there are some places the public can can peer through a telescope to see the red planet in detail.

Mars has been experiencing a planet-wide dust storm that has obscured much of its detail. But there's good news: On Thursday, NASA announced that it's the "beginning of the end" of the global storm; more detail is appearing as the dust settles.

If you have a pair of binoculars, you can take a look at Mars, but don't expect to see that detail: you'll likely just see a bright red circle. But look at Mars and then at another bright star: Mars will appear as a disc compared to a star that  "twinkles" more.

But looking through a telescope, you'll likely see dark patches and other features. If you're hoping to get the chance to do that, contact some local astronomical groups or universities to see what they have on tap.

Here are a few:

  • Toronto: Mars Extravaganza York U: July 25 to Aug. 1, 9 p.m. ET to midnight.
  • Calgary: Mars Night! Rothney Astrophysical Observatory 10 p.m. MT to 1 a.m.
  • Edmonton: Telus World of Science, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Observatory
  • St. John's: Mars Day, 2 p.m. NT to 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 12 a.m., Signal Hill

How close is close?

On July 31, Earth and Mars will be 57.6 million kilometres apart. In 2003, the pair were 55.8 million km apart. While this may not sound that close, keep in mind: Mars and Earth can be as far apart as 400 million kilometres. 

And ignore the "Mars will be as big as the full moon" hype. This won't be the case, nor will it ever be. If it were, it would alter the orbit of our planet and cause extreme tides. Bye-bye, Earth.

So rest assured that Mars, while close, is safely tucked away in its own orbit, an average of 225 million kilometres away.

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