MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Get ready to look toward the stars Friday night as two celestial events will be taking place, but you may only be able to see one depending on where you are in the world.
The first is Mars at opposition and the other is a total lunar eclipse. Not everyone will be able to see the eclipse, but Mars is visible to everyone and will be over the next couple of months.
If the sky is clear, it is very easy to see Mars as the brightest and reddest “star” in the night sky right now. Mars is bright now because on Friday night (July 27) it will be at opposition – meaning opposite the Sun in the sky (which occurs about every 26 months). This also means that Mars rises in the east around sunset, reaches its highest point in the sky around midnight, and sets in the west around sunrise. In other words, it is visible almost all night. Mars is particularly bright this year – the brightest it has been since 2003 —because its distance from Earth at opposition varies, and this year it is near its minimum distance.
At its farthest distance, Mars is about 250 million miles from Earth. This week however it will be a mere 38.5 million miles away!
This is certainly close enough for amateur astronomers (essentially anyone with a decent telescope) to get a great view. One caveat though, Mars has been experiencing a planet-wide dust storm for the last couple months, severely obscuring the view from Earth. So if your view looks a little hazy, that is likely the cause.
No telescope? No problem! You can see Mars with the naked eye as long as you have a good view of the sky (and obviously a clear night). Around 10 p.m. on the 26th through the 28th it will appear just below the Moon. In fact, on Friday night Mars will sit just to the lower right side of the full moon in the southeastern sky.
Lastly, Mars won’t be this close again to Earth until the year 2035.
There is also a total lunar eclipse visible Friday night. It is the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21stcentury, with totality lasting 1 hour, 43 minutes. The bad news is that this eclipse will not be visible in the Americas. You have to be on the night side of Earth to see a total lunar eclipse, and this one occurs while it is early evening in Western Europe and later over Asia, Africa, and Australia. If you live in or are visiting one of those areas, don’t miss the eclipse. If you are in the Americas, look for the beautiful photos that will be posted.