May 30, 2016 1:03 pm
Updated: May 30, 2016 4:18 pm

Mars close approach 2016: Planet to be brightest its been in just over 10 years

The ice caps of Mars along with the bluish-white water ice clouds hang above the Tharsis volcanoes.

NASA/JPL/MSSS
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No, it won’t be as big as the moon, but it will be brighter than usual.

Earth and Mars will be closer than they have been in just over 10 years on Monday.

This shows the apparent size of Mars in 2016 as compared to the moon. The red planet will appear brightest from May 18-June 3.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

You may wonder why the two planets aren’t this close all of the time. That’s because planets don’t go around the sun in perfectly circular orbits. Instead, they have slightly elliptical orbits. As well, the orbit of Mars is slightly inclined compared to Earth’s.

Another influence is the sun and its gravity (it also affects the orbits of all the planets slightly). But for Mars, it has another source that influences its orbit: the mighty Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

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READ MORE: Explore Mars in this 360° view from Curiosity rover

All of this means the distance between Earth and Mars varies over time.

On Monday, Mars will be 75.3 million kilometres from Earth. After June 3, as the planets move further apart in their orbits, Mars will slowly begin to fade.

If you’d like to take a look for yourself, go out after dark and look for the brightest red “star” in the south-southeast. You will actually notice two red stars in the sky. One isn’t a star at all: it’s Mars. The other (dimmer) one is a star. It’s Antares, part of the constellation Scorpius. Also worth noting is that Saturn will be nearby, to the right of Mars. You can even use a pair of binoculars to see them up close.

The position of Mars in the night sky on May 30, 2016.

NASA

The minimum distance between Earth and Mars is about 54.6 million kilometres. The last time Mars was almost that close was in 2003, when it was just 55,758,006 kilometres from Earth. It was the closest the planets had come in 60,000 years. The next time Earth and Mars will come that close together is in 2287. It was that close encounter that spawned the “Mars will be the size of the full moon” hoax that seems to rear its ugly head every year. But don’t fall for it: that can never happen.

The next Mars close approach will occur on July 31, 2018 when it will be roughly 57, 614,515 kilmoetres from Earth.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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