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Mars at Opposition 2014

This week the red planet Mars reached opposition, making it best placed for observing. Opposition is, as the name suggests, the point where a planet is directly opposite the Sun in our sky.

This means that Mars is up all night long at the moment, rising as the Sun sets and setting as the Sun rises, and so you should be able to spot it whatever time of night you’re out.

Mars reached opposition on 8 April, but on 14 April it will reach its closest approach to Earth, at a mere 57.4 million miles!

On that night – and on nights near that date – the planet Mars will shine very brightly at magnitude -1.5, brighter than anything else in the night sky except the Moon (which is Full on 14 April, and sits near Mars) and Jupiter.

Mars in the sky at midnight on 9 April

Mars in the sky at midnight on 9 April

Mars also looms larger than normal when seen through a telescope, at a whopping 15″ (15 arcseconds = 0.25 arcminutes = 1/240 of a degree!). Stargazers with a decent sized telescope, good observing skills, and good observing conditions should be able to make out the north polar cap of Mars which is tilted towards us at the moment.

Through a small scope you might catch it looking like this:

Mars as seen through a small telescope

Mars as seen through a small telescope

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