Mars, the fourth planet from the sun and also happen to be the smallest planet after Mercury, has been the talk of every astronomer recently, in fact, NASA has spent a great deal in trying to demystify the baby giant. The good news is that this popular planet after Earth will be visible to the ordinary eye during this month’s ending and also throughout July, though it will not outshine the brightest star.

The Martian atmosphere. Image source Wikimedia, Creative commons license

It’s no news that Earth and other planets revolve around the sun and also it’s no news that Earth’s orbit is elliptical in shape. As a result of the rotation and revolution of Earth and other planets including Mars, the duo will be closest to each more than they have ever been with a separating distance being roughly 35.8 million miles and at such distance of separation, someone on the earth surface won’t need a telescope to have a glimpse of the red planet, woohoo, great news!

But why is it happening now? Will it pose any danger in the future? What are the natural phenomenon surrounding it? Let’s find out.

Perihelic opposition

Two astronomical bodies are said to be in opposition if they are both in their opposite sides, as observed from celestial sphere of either of the bodies. In a simpler term, a body is said to be in opposition if it is in optical straight line with the Earth and the sun.

Pictorial explanation of opposition. Image source Wikimedia.Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

The opposition of the planet Mars is usually a normal one and occurs just once roughly every two years and the last one occurred without anyone noticing it around 35 months ago, that is May 2016. The opposition of the biggest planet, Jupiter happened just a month ago with Jupiter coming close to Earth at a distance of 408 million miles!

The case of opposition between the Earth, the sun and Mars is described as perihelic opposition, which is a special one also because the red planet will attain what is called the perihelion, which is the least distance it can maintain with the sun, and occurs just once in every 16 years or 17 years. Hence, at the period between ending of the month June and the whole of July, the planet Earth will be passing between the Sun and Mars.

What this means for us here on earth

I guess everyone is looking into the sky right now or is on the lookout to see the red planet but hold on a sec, is this good for us or bad for us?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the truth still remains that Mars, though very bright and beautiful still remains a hostile planet with regards to life and one of its most feared environmental condition, the dust storm, at the moment is at its peak taking up a very big part of the bright planet.

Mars without dust storm (left) vs Mars engulfed with dust (right) back in 2001 with this year’s dust storm predicted to be the highest in history!. Image source Wikimedia. Creative commons license

According to NASA, this year’s dust storm in Mars is the highest they have ever observed which made them consider placing the vehicle located in Mars which is currently helping them in observing the planet, the rover in sleep mode. Hence, the impact of the close distance between the Earth and Mars is yet to be ascertained.

Summary

Earth and Mars will be in their closest distance since 2003 come June ending and the month of July. The planet will be visible to ordinary human eye and though not much physical scenario will follow it up, the red planet is known to be experiencing sever dust storm and the impact of such closeness have not yet been ascertained and probably might not be a harmful one.

References

  1. Mars opposition ~NASA
  2. The 2018 perihelic apparition of Mars
  3. Opposition ~Wikipedia
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