Rare chance for sky watchers to see close-up of Mars

Fiery red Mars is approaching its closest point to Earth for 11 years, offering a rare opportunity to sky watchers.

On May 30, Mars will be 47.2m miles from Earth and it is due to remain close and bright for the first two weeks in June.

Mars normally appears tiny even through medium-sized amateur telescopes, but the planet

can be seen low in the south of the sky, the most prominent point

of the triangle it forms with the planet Saturn and red supergiant star Antares.

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “Mars is now quite large in the sky, about 18 seconds of arc across (0.3 degrees). It looks very red because it’s so low in the sky, scraping the rooftops really.

"If you want to see some detail you need a telescope with 75 to 100 times magnification. The best time to see it is around 1am.

“Saturn is next to Mars at the moment and you can see the difference between the two planets. Saturn looks yellowish.”

Sky & Telescope senior editor, Alan MacRobert, offered more advice to amateur astronomers: “Look below Mars by about the width of your fist at arm’s length,” he said.

“If Antares is still too low, wait a while and everything will rise higher. Antares is fainter but it also has a fiery colour.”

The star’s name, from ancient Greek, means “anti-Mars” or “rival of Mars” reflecting its competing redness.


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