Observe the Opposition and Close Approach of Mars!
Mars at opposition in 2016, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Your view through a telescope won't be nearly as detailed, but you should still be able to make out the larger dark and light areas of its surface features and polar cap.
Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)
Would you like to spy on Mars, the legendary red planet, through a telescope and get to see some of its elusive features?  This is the time to do just that, as Mars makes its closest approach to Earth this month! Mars will be close enough to viewers on Earth that  normal backyard telescopes can offer up views of Mars' highlands, lowlands, polar caps, and even some of its weather if you are lucky. Even experienced astronomical observers are excited for the great views happening over the next few weeks!

 The  opposition of Mars is on May 22; that night, the red planet will be at nearly its closest distance to Earth for the year and visible all night. Opposition means "opposite the Sun" in our sky, so as the Sun sets in the west, Mars rises in the east. Mars will be at its absolute closest approach on May 30,  a few days after opposition, and will be looking good  in telescopes for several of weeks before and after that date. Where can you find someone with a telescope eager to share a peek at Mars? At a star party sponsored by your local astronomy club! You can find events near you on our event page, where clubs across the USA post their public events for curious folks to find and join in the astronomy love.

Image of Mars and its relative size as it approaches and then goes away from Earth in 2016
Mars as it will appear through a normal backyard telescope through 2016, with a section of the Moon as it would appear at the same magnification. Notice how much larger Mars appears on May 30, its closest approach to Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This year Mars will pass enough that many of its details will be visible to telescopic observers on Earth: clouds and haze, ice caps, and some terrain, especially the highly contrasting dark and light regions of its cold desert surface. Mars is so small that most of the time you can't see much detail of its surface from Earth, as its orbit can bring it over 249 million miles away from us. Its average distance is still quite a ways away, at around 140 million miles from Earth. This combination of its small actual size and large average distance is why Mars's disc often appears very small, even when using powerful telescopes. This year's approach will see the red planet come to around 46.8 million miles from Earth; much closer than its average distance, and much nearer than many of its previous approaches.

Mars will look like a brilliant bright star in the night sky at its closest approach to our unaided eye; you won't see it looking as large as the Moon by any means! Mars will still appear extremely bright and reddish-orange in color; some observers say its almost salmon in hue. It is easy to spot in the southern section of our sky within the summer constellation of Scorpius. Good close approaches like this don't happen every year and are relatively rare, so catch Mars while you can! As a bonus celestial treat, Mars will be close by another planet which offers great views: Saturn, with its legendary rings tilted at a great angle for full display to lucky astronomical observers! 
Find a star party and treat your eyes to some wonderful planetary sights! You can also look up more information about viewing Mars on NASA's Mars Close Approach page. JPL has a great What's Up? video about the close approach as well.

May your skies stay clear and your weather pleasant for this perfect beginning to a summer of stargazing!
picture of Twitter logoJoin our stellar stargazing community!
We invite you to join the NASA Night Sky Network stargazing community on Facebook and Twitter for sky charts, beautiful images, and lively conversation.


ASP logo
The NASA Night Sky Network is managed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
The ASP is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that advances science literacy through astronomy. Your contribution is tax-deductible as provided by law.