Washington DC (SPX) Jan 28, 2010
One of the skywatching highlights of the year takes place on the night of January 29, as the full Moon and the planet Mars march high across the sky, according to the editors of StarDate magazine. Mars and the Moon are low in the east-northeast at nightfall, with the Red Planet to the left of the Moon. Mars looks like a brilliant orange star.
One reason this is such a grand spectacle is that Mars is at opposition on the 29th, which means it lines up opposite the Sun as Earth passes by Mars in our smaller, faster orbit around the Sun. Mars rises around sunset and remains in view all night. The planet is also closest to us around opposition, so it shines brightest for the year.
High-resolution images and high-definition video animation of the event are available online at StarDate's Media Center: http:stardate.org/mediacenter. There, you can also sign up to receive advanced e-mail notices of future skywatching events.
This is not a great opposition for Mars because it occurs around the time that Earth is closest to the Sun and Mars is farthest.
The gap between the two planets will be a hefty 62 million miles (99 million km). The smallest possible distance at opposition is about 35 million miles (56 million km), which last happened in August 2003. Mars appeared more than four times as bright then as it will this year.
Even so, Mars puts on quite a spectacle. Only the Moon, the planets Venus and Jupiter, and the star Sirius shine brighter. And since Venus is out of view in the Sun's glare, Mars will rank as the fourth-brightest object in the night sky.
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