Today being July 31st, 2018 the planet Mars will be the closest it has been to Earth since 2003. Tonight Mars will be about 35.8 million miles from Earth. This also marks the apex of summer in Mars. This is being described by scientists as Mars Close Approach. The Close Approach is the point in Mars’ orbit at which it comes closest to Earth. The minimum distance possible from Mars to Earth is about 33.9 million miles away. Although the close approach of 2018 is spectacular, it is yet to beat the record of 2003 where the close approach was 34.6 million miles. This was the first of its kind in nearly 60,000 years and marks the reopening of a series of more frequent close approaches. Projections suggest that another close approach should be expected in 2020.
Causes of the Close Approach
The elliptical paths of planets make them to move in orbits of aphelion and perihelion when viewed from other planets or celestial bodies. This follows the laws of relativity. These elliptical paths therefore sometimes bring planetary bodies closer to each other and sometimes take them farthest away from each other. Gravitational pull in the solar system also affects the proximity of the planets in the systems orbit. This pull is bringing Mars closer to Earth because of differences in mass and weight, despite their being identical
Can we view this close approach with the naked eye?
The answer is simply yes, and this can be more fascinating where the sight is aided by a telescope. Due to its position in relation to Earth, people in the lower latitudes will have a clearer view of the red planet than those in Northern hemisphere. But notwithstanding, it can still be viewed from all over the globe.
To distinguish it from other stars in the sky, Mars will be seen as a super bright body with orange to red color which is much visible in a clear night sky. It will appear to the East in the evening and to the West shortly before dawn. At midnight, it can be seen at the zenith in mid latitudes.
Look out for Mars today and you will be fascinated as it will be the brightest object in the sky tonight.
Meteorologist Mohammed Abdulkadir Yakubu
Department of Geography, Federal University Lokoja.