8 and 14 April 2014: the opposition and the perigee of Mars

Tonight, 8 April 2014, Mars will be at the exact opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. This phenomenon called opposition repeats every 26 months, but this year is special because the Red Planet is in the position closest to Earth in the last seven years. For several months we have noticed his red light getting bigger by the day. In fact it will find at the perigee (i.e. the minimum distance from the Earth) only on 14 April, due to the fact that the orbits of the planets are not circular but elliptical. Of course we still have several weeks, hopefully thanks to the good spring weather, to admire it.

Mars today will be visible all night. It will rise in the east and reach around one o'clock (solar midnight) the highest position in the south. In its journey it is accompanied by Spica.
This year, the Red Planet will arrive at a distance of 93 million kilometres from Earth (actually a little less).

Every 15 or 17 years, however, there is a phenomenon called great opposition, the last one occurred in 2003, when Mars was only 56 million kilometres away. This will be repeated in 2018 when the distance will be slightly more than 57 million kilometres.

You can observe Mars easily with the naked eye. Its reddish colour is unmistakable. Its brightness in this period is comparable to that of Sirius. And if you have a telescope, these days you will see the Martian disc getting bigger and bigger and you will notice its features with more and more definition.
Moreover on 14 April Mars will be in conjunction with the Full Moon (which in North America will be subject to eclipse): a sight not to be missed.

As you may remember about a year ago, however, the phenomenon of the conjunction of Mars occurred, that is, its passage behind the Sun, which had caused the interruption of communications with the orbiters and rovers on the Red Planet for about a month. The same phenomenon will be repeated next year.