Mars Will Be The Closest It’s Been To Earth In 15 Years – Don’t Miss It

Next week on Tuesday, the 31st, Mars will be the closest it has been to Earth in a little over 15 years. That means next week will be the prime time to go stargazing to get a great glimpse of the red planet. Mars is (and has been for quite some time) the focal point for the beginning of human space exploration.

For years now we have been sending probes and satellites out into space, but plans are being made now to send humans to Mars, so Mars is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds right now. Because of this, there are going to be lots of places hosting Mars viewing parties where you can either go to (or watch via live stream) and see Mars up close and personal.

On Tuesday, Mars will only be 35.8 million miles away from Earth. The last time Mars was this close was 15 years ago in 2003 when Mars was only 34.6 million miles away from us. According to NASA, Mars will not be this close again until 2287, so unless you plan on being cryogenically frozen for a couple hundred years, then you might not want to miss out on your chance next week. Prior to 2003, the last time Mars was the closest to Earth was 60,000 years ago when it came around 35 million miles away. You might be wondering how scientists could possibly know that considering records weren’t kept at that time, and there was no way of measuring distance between planets.

Well, scientists are actually able to use computer programs that can track (or estimate) different celestial bodies’ path’s, tracing back millions and millions of years (it can also estimate millions of years into the future). Mars will also be at opposition this week on the 27th. Opposition occurs every 2 years (give or take a year or 2) where Mars, the Earth, and the Sun form a straight line with the Earth in between Mars and the Sun. Opposition just happens to occur on the same day as July’s full moon, which means that some people may get to experience a total lunar eclipse. This eclipse will last almost 2 hours and will be visible from Africa, Asia, and the Indian Ocean.

The time Mars will be the closest will be on July 31st at 3:50 a.m. EDT (or 12:50 a.m. PST). 

Martian Dust Storms Making The Red Planet Even Brighter

Currently, Mars is experiencing a pretty intense dust storm that has rendered NASA’s Opportunity rover dead because it can’t recharge its solar batteries. NASA hopes that once the dust settles the solar cells can recharge and they can reestablish contact with the rover, but there is a chance that the rover will not come back online considering the rover is 14 years old and it hasn’t charged since mid-June. Even though the dust storm has caused some issues with the rover, it has made Mars a little brighter for our viewing pleasure.

The dust is being picked up into Mars’ atmosphere and is being reflected by sunlight, making the Red Planet even redder and brighter for us to see at night. Unfortunately, for those looking at Mars through their telescopes, the dust storm will obscure surface details so you won’t be able to see great details of Mars like you normally would. It is estimated that this dust storm could last for months, and the video below gives a great perspective on how massive the storm truly is.

While the storm has knocked out Opportunity, NASA’s rover Curiosity is still alive and running, still working on its mission thanks to its nuclear-powered batteries. NASA estimates that this colossal dust storm has covered 15.8 million square miles of the planet. Mars has a total surface area of 55.91 million square miles, and the storm is still growing, so it is very possible that the entire planet will be covered by dust soon. Scientists estimate it could be as early as September before the dust quite literally begins to settle. Until then, NASA is taking advantage while they can and are studying the storm as much as possible to see how the storm has evolved over the surface of the planet.

List of Mars Rovers

As some of you may know, Mars is currently a planet inhabited solely by robots. Those robots consist of a number of rovers and landers, as well as some doomed probes and dead orbiters. Here is a list of the rover missions that have been sent to Mars:

  1. Mars 2 – 1971 (twin to Mars 3)
    1. From the Soviet Union
    2. Was an orbiter with an attached lander, however, landing failed and the lander was lost
  2. Mars 3 – 1971 (twin to Mars 2)
    1. From the Soviet Union
    2. The same thing as Mars 2, however, the lander did make it to the surface and made communication for about 20 seconds, then communication was lost
  3. Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner- 1997
    1. From the United States of America
    2. Was a lander that launched in 1997 from the US and also had its own probe that explored Mars (Sojourner)
    3. Was the first successful lander since Viking in the 1970s
    4. Pathfinder lived 3 months until communication was lost and Sojourner survived for 83 sols
  4. Beagle 2 – 2003
    1. From the European Space Agency
    2. Mission was to look for past life on the surface of Mars
    3. No communication was ever made with the craft and it was declared lost in 2004
    4. In 2015, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) camera located the “wreckage” of the Beagle 2 and found that the craft’s solar panels never deployed, which blocked the communication antenna
  5. Spirit – 2004 (twin to Opportunity)
    1. From the United States of America
    2. Landed in January of 2004 and lived over 6 years
    3. Got stuck in sand in 2009 and was unable to free itself and eventually communication was lost with the rover in 2010
  6. Opportunity – 2004 (twin to Spirit)
    1. From the United States of America
    2. Landed in January of 2004 on the opposite side of the planet from Spirit
    3. It is hopefully still operational (currently in hibernation due to the dust storm)
    4. It has exceeded its lifespan by over 14 years and is still expected to continue its mission once it awakes from hibernation to recharge its solar panels
  7. Curiosity – 2012
    1. From the United States of America
    2. Landed in August of 2012 and is still going strong on its mission (that has been extended indefinitely)
    3. Curiosity’s goal is to investigate Mars’ geology and climate, as well as look for water and even search for signs of habitability for humans
    4. This rover is still operational like Opportunity, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon