We haven’t seen Mars like this in more than a decade.
The red planet will soon be closer to Earth that it has been in 11 years: On May 30, Mars will be about 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers) from Earth. Yes, that’s still a long way off, but sometimes Mars is 249 million miles (400 million kilometers) from Earth.
What does this close approach mean for sky watchers? It means Mars will appear bigger and brighter from May 18 until June 3, according to NASA.
But you don’t have to wait. Mars already is putting on a spectacular show in the early morning sky. And you don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see it.
In fact, you’ll probably be able to find it without a star chart or an astronomy app.
In the United States, the best time to look for Mars during its close approach will be around midnight Eastern time, according to NASA. It will be the brightest “star” that you’ll see in the southeastern sky and it will appear a bit reddish.
To find out when Mars is visible in your neighborhood, you can go to timeanddate.com/astronomy and pop in your location. It will give a list of times that the sun, moon and planets rise and set.
After you have seen Mars shining bright in the morning sky, you may want to get an even better view. You can hook up with your local astronomy club to see Mars through a telescope.
If you miss this year’s close approach, Earth and Mars will be even closer on July, 31 2018. They’ll come about 35.8 million miles from each other.
Back in August 2003 they were closer still: The two planets were only 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 kilometers) from center to center. That was the nearest Earth and Mars have been in almost 60,000 years, according to NASA.
Scientists calculate they won’t get that close again until August 28, 2287.