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The great 2018 perihelic apparition of Mars

(Flickr/Kevin Gill)

Mars will be coming closer to Earth at any time since 2003.

At this time, observers who look due south at 3 a.m. local time will begin to experience the brightness of the planet Mars.

Mars swings close to the Earth once every 15 years and this year will be a most amazing apparition.

Mars is in the news with the recent discoveries of organic matter, which may lead to the discovery and confirmation of past life.

Mars is also the planet that humans will most likely land on and inhabit by 2040.

Mars is going to be the best planet in the sky to follow for the next four months.

Of all the major planets in the solar system, Mars is the planet that seems to mimic some of the conditions here on Earth.

It is mostly rock and has polar caps. Mars has seasons and large mountain chains, as well as a canyon which is about as long as the entire United States. Top that off with a large volcano the size of Arizona — and some 70,000 feet high!

This dormant volcanic mountain is known as Olympus Mons, followed by the second tallest mountain, Ascraeus Mons, which is some 60,000 feet high!

The difference between Mars and Earth are many, too.

Mars has an atmosphere that is primarily made up of carbon dioxide — 96 percent — 1.9 percent nitrogen and assorted gases.

Mars has winds that range in speed from light to well over 60 miles per hour on average.

In Martian dust storms, the winds can be of hurricane force or more.

This year provides us with an amazing opportunity to view the red planet from the comfort of your backyard: Mars is now some 48,000,000 miles from Earth and will swing as close as 35,785,537 miles on July 31.

In a moderate-sized telescope, you can peek into the southern polar cap and some of the major land masses as well. Mars will be small, even at best in the telescope, over the next few months.

If you were on the surface of Mars, the Martian equinox occurred back on May 23, with autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere.

A year on Mars is some 687 Earth days long and Mars is the second smallest planet in our solar system, some 4,200 miles in diameter.

If you tried really hard, you might be able to get at least six Mars-sized objects into the volume of the Earth.

Mars has a day which is 24 hours and 40 minutes long, very close to that of the Earth.

To locate Mars in our Arizona skies, you need to look to the southeastern sky around midnight, as the planet rises. Mars is best seen in the southern sky between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. local time.

It is now brighter than any other star in our sky, other than the Sun.

Begin looking at Mars under at least 200 times magnification, so as to see the nearly full planet and many of the surface features it has to offer.

Here is a Mars map which will show you the exact location of the many surface features you might see.

Starting around June 26, Mars begins to retrograde of move backwards against the stars. Mars does this as the Earth is passing Mars in the fast lane of planetary motion and the planet will wander to the west in the sky, against the fixed stars.

The final act will be the great opposition of Mars, on the night of  July 27, when Mars will appear in the sky all night.

Get set for Mars, closest to Earth in 15 years and the planet that mankind will set foot on, possibly as early as 2040.

To print your very own June 2018 star chart, click here. To view satellites and dates and times of passage, click here.

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