Mars, the Red Planet
Mars will be at opposition on Saturday, March 3, 2012, and it's a great time to see the planet!
How do I find Mars?
Mars will be at opposition on Saturday, March 3, 2012, and it's a great time to see the planet. Opposition means Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth, so Mars will rise in the east around nightfall. It sets in the west and is at its highest during the midnight hours. If you're an early riser, try spotting it at least an hour before dawn. Mars will be in front of Leo the Lion, whether you're looking before dawn or during the night. You can distinguish Mars from other objects because it will be bright and a bit reddish. Mars will be brighter than the star Regulus, Leo the Lion's heart and his brightest star. Even if you don't spot Mars on Saturday, you can still enjoy Mars all through March - it'll be at its closest to Earth until April 2014. Read more at EarthSky.
While observing Mars, it's fun to remember that the Curiosity rover is on her way to the Red Planet. You might ask, Where is Curiosity? Follow her journey and get daily updates on the Mars Science Laboratory website.
What is opposition?
"During opposition, Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth. From our perspective on our spinning world, Mars rises in the east just as the sun sets in the west. Then, after staying up in the sky the entire night, Mars sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east. Since Mars and the sun appear on opposite sides of the sky, we say that Mars is in "opposition." If Earth and Mars followed perfectly circular orbits, opposition would be as close as the two planets could get." Read more at the Mars Exploration Program website.
Invitation to a Star Party
What's the best way to see Mars? We recommend you go to a star gazing event (star party), because amateur astronomers can not only show you Mars, but the other planets, constellations, and celestial objects in the current sky.
In the picture to the left, Grants Pass Astronomers, in Grants Pass, Oregon, are setting up their telescopes for a public star gazing event outside of a store. All are welcome.
You can find star gazing events and astronomy clubs on our website or use Go StarGaze, the free iPhone app.
Join our vibrant stargazing community!
We invite you to join the NASA Night Sky Network stargazing community on Facebook and Twitter for daily sky charts and lively conversation about all things planetary.
Clear skies and happy stargazing!
The NASA Night Sky Network is managed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in cooperation with NASA.