The red god of war, Mars, will be closing in on the Earth in the next few weeks.
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and one which goes around the sun in a period of 687 Earth days.
The second smallest of the major planets, Mars has a diameter of 4,220 miles along with seasons like that of Earth.
Those seasons on Mars are brutal, with temperatures which go down to minus 220 degrees and can rise to nearly 60 degrees in the short “heat” of summer.
The average temperature on Mars is minus 81 degrees, as opposed to the average temperature on Earth, a cool 57 degrees.
Mars has always been a planet which has stirred the imagination with thoughts of possible life or intelligent beings on the surface.
These ideas came about from observers with large telescopes, as they observed polar ice caps, large land masses and a possible network of canals.
Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed Mars in 1877 and thought that he noticed some type of lines or “canali” crossing the surface.
That was followed by Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.
Lowell observed Mars in the first part of the 20th century and claimed to have observed the same thing, adding fuel to the fire of possible intelligent life on Mars.
We now know that Mars is a barren desert with an atmosphere made mostly of carbon dioxide.
The poles of Mars are made up of water ice and frozen carbon dioxide and change with the seasons.
We here in Arizona have an amazing opportunity to view Mars as it is now getting closer and closer to us in September and October.
Here is your guide to observing the planet and enjoying this rare event.
Mars will be closing in on Earth and be at its best, opposition as we call it, Oct. 13. At that time, Mars will be within 38 million miles of Earth and in our Arizona skies all night.
Here is a compilation of the entire 2020 Mars event.
Here is the path that Mars will take in our Arizona skies:
From the chart above, Mars will perform an amazing maneuver beginning Sept. 9 and last until nearly mid-November.
Mars will begin a retrograde motion against the fixed stars.
Retrograde motion is when a planet moves to the west against the background stars, as opposed to the normal eastward motion against the stars.
This happens as the Earth, in a closer obit than Mars, overtakes Mars in its journey around the sun.
The illusion is that Mars appears to track in the opposite direction in the sky.
Opposition of Mars takes place in the middle of the retrograde path, that being the night of Oct. 13.
Right now, Mars rises in the east around 9 p.m. Arizona local time.
Mars is brighter than any of the fixed stars in the sky and will get brighter over the next few weeks.
Right now, the visual magnitude of Mars is -2.0, which is very bright to the naked eye.
Mars is now some 43 million miles from us in Arizona and just a short 3 minute and 54 second trip at light speed!
As mentioned above, Arizona has a rich history in the observation of Mars and Mars research. This is a great time to help educate the public on this most amazing story.
More details on the Mars 2020 opposition can be found here.
To help you keep up with what other observers are seeing when it comes to Mars, here is one of the best sites with actual images sent in by observers.
Here is the classic site for those that are regular observers of the planets.
The last part of the story of Mars 2020 is the fact that Mars has some of the most powerful dust storms of any planet.
These dust storms may become “global” in intensity and can obscure the entire planet when close to Earth.
Mars was nearest to the sun Aug. 3 and only time will tell what may happen here!
To understand the nature of Martian dust storms, we offer up this.
Finally, here is the telescopic view of Mars from Earth, during the 2020 apparition.
To print your own monthly star chart, click here.
To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.
Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM on Saturdays at 3 a.m.
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