NOW IS THE TIME TO OBSERVE MARS
Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. CLICK photo for larger view and look below for information and links.
Got a thing for Mars? Well now through April will be the best time to observe the Red Planet until 2016. Currently in the constellation Virgo, Mars reaches opposition on April 8, 2014. This means that Mars will be directly opposite the Sun from vantage point Earth thus we will see it as a full planetary disk. That day it will be an apparent disk size of 15.2” arcseconds on the night sky while shining at a magnitude of about -1.5 and at a distance of 0.6 AU from Earth which equates to about 96 million kilometers or 59.6 million miles. That’s a little better than the 2012 opposition but the 2016, 2018 & 2020 events will be even better (see below).
Let’s take a quick look at definitions for a moment just to clarify a couple of points. Opposition is when the Earth is placed exactly between the Sun and a given superior planet (planets beyond Earth’s orbit). Because planetary orbits aren’t perfect circles, opposition doesn’t truly mean “closest point” to Earth. The term “perigee” still applies here and they indeed happen at different times though very close. For example opposition (opposite the Sun/full disk view of the planet) occurs on the 8th while it will reach perigee (closest point to Earth but slightly less than a full planetary disk) on the 14th.
The Moon will be making itself known during this time as well. Currently, as the Moon works toward lunation 1129 (new moon) on March 30, 2014 it’s beginning to rise later and later as it gets closer to the sun on the sky. On opposition night the Moon will be slightly past first quarter, 8 days old and 61% illuminated in its waxing gibbous phase. It will be setting around 0240 EDT & 0232 PDT. Mars rises at 19:33 EDT & 19:09 PDT. Remember these times are local for your area. A rise & set time isn’t a single “one moment” event it’s continuously happening so different individual locations will have different rise/set times but instead of the west coast of the US being exactly 3 hr. behind the east coast (as in calculating time zones) it will actually be pretty similar to your actual clock time but slightly off. It’s a little bit of a different approach and way of thinking than simple time zone calculations but that’s what they make calculation programs for.
Mars oppositions occur every 26 months or 780 days and the cycle that determines how close the opposition will be works on a 15 year cycle (roughly) and right now were trending closer and closer towards the peak of this cycle which is in 2018. The reason that all Martian oppositions aren’t the dame distance is because Mars has an eccentric orbit much greater than Earths (Mars 9% to Earth’s 1.5%) which takes it closer to and further from the Sun in its orbit. So when we meet up for opposition its distance relative to the Sun and us has changed.
Opposition 2014: apparent size 15.2” arcseconds with a magnitude of -1.5.
Opposition 2016: apparent size 18.7” arcseconds with a magnitude of -2.
Opposition 2018: apparent size 24.3” arcseconds (perihelion) with a magnitude of -2.8.
Opposition 2020: apparent size 22” arcseconds with a magnitude of -2.6.
BUT WAIT…..(here it comes) THRE’S MORE!!!
On April 13th & 14th Mars will pair up with the Moon (9 deg.) making for a terrific view. The real show will be on April 15, 2014 as the first eclipse of 2014 occurs. It will be a total lunar eclipse beginning at 04:53 UTC (00:53 EDT & 21:53 PDT on the 14th) and visible to the Americas almost exclusively but New Zealand and eastern Australia will also see partials. Mars will be very close to the event thus you will view the Red Moon and Red Planet together side by side in the night sky. That, my friends; should be an event to behold. Here’s my 2014 Eclipse Page: https://danspace77.com/2014-eclipses-2/
“In-The-Sky” 2014 Mars opposition page: http://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20140408_13_100
“EarthSky” 2014 Mars opposition page: http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/mars-2014-opposition-how-to-see-april-best-time-to-see-brightest
“Universe Today” 2014 Mars opposition guide: http://www.universetoday.com/109010/enter-the-red-planet-a-guide-to-the-upcoming-mars-2014-opposition-season/
“Ice In Space” opposition dates: http://www.iceinspace.com.au/planetopp.html
“SPIDER.SEDS” 2014 Mars timeline: http://spider.seds.org/spider/Mars/mars2014.html
Professor Seligman, Mars opposition page: http://cseligman.com/text/planets/marsoppositions.htm
“Naked Eye Planets” Mars travel path page: http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/mars.htm
“Alpo-Astronomy” 2014 Apparition of Mars page: http://www.alpo-astronomy.org/jbeish/2014_MARS.htm
Sky & Telescope Mars Previewer II: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/resources/software/3304921.html?page=2&c=y
US Naval Observatory Eclipse Computer: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/LunarEclipse.php
Date And Time Eclipse Calculator: http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in.html