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Astronomy News: Before The Blood Moon, Check Out Tonight's Opposition and See Mars At Its "Biggest and Brightest" In Years

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First Posted: Apr 08, 2014 12:49 PM EDT
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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took the picture on June 26, when Mars was approximately 43 million miles (68 million km) from Earth -- the closest Mars has ever been to Earth since 1988. Hubble can see details as small as 10 miles (16 km) across. The colors have been carefully balanced to give a realistic view of Mars' hues as they might appear through a telescope. (Photo : Flickr/Hubble Heritage)

The Blood Moon isn't coming until the 14th-15th, but skygazers can get a preview of the type of shows the sky has to offer tonight when Earth, Mars and the sun align.

Tonight's event is called opposition, meaning the sun and Mars are opposite one another in our sky. The event happens once every 26 months, according to SPACE. The next opposition is not until May 22, 2016, so you'll want to take a gander this time around.

"From our perspective on our spinning world, Mars rises in the east just as the sun sets in the west," NASA reports. "Then, after staying up in the sky the entire night, Mars sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east."

According to the National Weather Service, most areas will be able to see Mars because of the clear weather. National Geographic reports that Mars will be its "biggest and brightest" in almost seven years.

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To get the most out of the opposition, viewers should monitor the sky throughout the night, from sunset to sunrise,

"Look for Mars to rise soon after local sunset over the eastern horizon within the constellation Virgo, the Maiden," National Geographic reports. "It reaches its highest point in the southern sky around 1 a.m. local time."

Keep your eyes peeled for Mars' north polar cap, which is made of water ice and dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide). This will make the planet appear white and bright.

If you don't have the means or a telescope to properly skygaze, modern technology can help you. Check out Sky and Telescope's Mars Profiler, which helps wannabe space cadets better understand what they are seeing, or watch Astronomers Without Borders and the Virtual Telescope Project's Night of the Red Planet webcast at 7 p.m. EST.

Seven days after the opposition, Mars will be at its closest to proximity to Earth. On this day, April 14, Earth and Mars will be a mere 57 million (92 million kilometers) away from each other. To put this into perspective, the Earth and Sun are 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) apart. The event is extra special because it coincidentally occurs the same time as a total lunar eclipse.

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Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @SH____4.



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