A huge night for stargazers is nearly here: On Monday evening (April 14), Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in six years, just ahead of a total eclipse of the moon.
Mars will be at its closest to Earth since 2008 when the Red Planet comes within 57.4 million miles (92.4 million km) of our planet. While that close approach occurs during the daytime, at 8:53 a.m. EDT (1253 GMT), Mars will rise later in the southeastern night sky and shine throughout Monday evening as a sort of night sky preview for the first total lunar eclipse of 2014 early Tuesday (April 15).
You can watch live webcasts of Mars and the total lunar eclipseon Space.com, courtesy of the Slooh community telescope, NASA and the Virtual Telescope project. The Slooh Mars webcast will begin at 10 p.m. EDT (0200 April 15 GMT), with several lunar eclipse webcasts following at 2 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT) on Tuesday.
On April 8, Mars was at opposition to the sun, meaning it was on the opposite side of Earth from the sun — a celestial alignment that occurs every 26 months. The past several years have been lean ones for Mars observers. Those who witnessed its spectacular 2003 Mars approach, which brought the planet within 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km) of Earth, have had to settle for increasingly poorer views of the Red Planet as the Earth-Mars orbital geometry became more unfavorable. But that trend is ending with Monday’s event, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth since Jan. 3, 2008. And yet, despite the improvement, this is still below-average in terms of favorability. Currently, a 6-inch telescope with an eyepiece magnifying 118-power will show Mars’ rust-hued disk appearing as large as the full moon appears with the unaided eye and yielding detail only grudgingly. Even so, observers may be able to spot new features in the light and dark markings that cover the planet’s surface. More