Mars, Earth, and the Sun Will Align in the Sky This Weekend

May 20, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Mars opposition
Photo credit: NASA

It won’t happen again for two years!

A week ago Mercury stole the show, but now Mars has its turn. The astronomical event referred to as Mars Opposition will see the red planet line up with the Earth and the sun on Sunday, May 22. The next alignment will only occur in two years from then, because Mars and the sun will be on the opposite side of the Earth next year.

Here is a beautiful illustration of Mars Opposition by Larry Koehn:

At the moment, Mars is about 48 million miles (77 million km) from us, but the red planet is creeping ever closer to planet Earth as it prepares for one of the closest orbits to our pale blue dot in 11 years.  On May 30th, Mars will come within an approach distance of 46.8 million miles (75.3 Million km) from Earth — the closest it will come for another decade. This means that Mars will be much more visible in the night sky as it’s closer to Earth than usual.

If that wasn’t enough, it only added to the list of astronomical events that already took place during the month of May. Thus far, the Eta Aquarid Meteor shower peaked on May 5th. Then on May 9th, Mercury passed directly between the Earth, and more recently, NASA released a stunning new detailed image of Mars taken by the Hubble telescope, just in time as Mars approaches its closest approach to Earth in 11 years towards the end of the month.  

It’s been a really wonderful month for stargazing!

Here are some more astronomical events you do not want to miss later this year: 11 Astronomical Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2016

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