Mars will be visible to the naked eye next month
Mars will be the closest its been to Earth for 15 years next month and it will even be visible with the naked eye.
Eager stargazers will be able to view the Red Planet without the need for a telescope on July 31, Nasa has announced.
Mars will be visible for much of the night, depending on weather conditions of course, and it will also appear low in the sky.
This is because of an event known as Mars Close Approach, which occurs when the Red Planet and Earth come nearest to each other in their orbits around the sun.
Obviously close is a relative term here, as the planets are still millions and millions of miles away from each other, but Mars will be just 35.8 million miles from us on July 31.
This is the closest the planet has been to Earth since 2003, so you will get your best view of Mars in 15 years next month - so best to pencil that into the diary, as Nasa say that the Red Planet only comes close enough for exceptional viewing once or twice every 15 or 17 years!
Not every Mars Close Approach is equal, with the close encounter in 2003 being the nearest it had been to Earth for 60,000 years and Nasa say it won’t be that close again until 2287.
Explaining why the distance of these encounters vary, Nasa wrote on their website: ‘If Earth and Mars had perfectly circular orbits, their minimum distance would always be the same. However, they have elliptical (egg-shaped) paths.
‘In addition, gravitational tugging by planets constantly changes the shape of their orbits a little bit. Giant Jupiter especially influences the orbit of Mars.
‘The orbits of Mars and Earth are also slightly tilted with respect to each other.’
In the coming weeks Mars will move nearer and nearer to Earth as we move towards the close approach on July 31, and it will actually appear the brightest in the sky between July 27 and July 30, before becoming fainter by mid-August as it travels further away from Earth on its orbit around the sun.
If you do miss the Mars Close Approach on July 31, there will be another one in 2020 - however the Red Planet will not be as close to Earth for that one, being 38.6 million miles away.
Nasa are also warning people not to believe a hoax that regularly circulates by email or on social media every time there is a Mars Close Approach.
The urban legend claims that Mars will look as big as the Moon in our night sky, but the American space agency has quashed this saying: ‘If that were true, we’d be in big trouble given the gravitational pulls on Earth, Mars, and our Moon!’