The 2003 Opposition of Mars

Mars - Courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

What's All The Buzz About?

At 7:51pm on Wednesday 27 August, 2003, Mars was the closest it has been to Earth since the year 57617 BC. That’s 59,619 years ago, and it won’t be this close again until the year 2287, but I wouldn’t recommend waiting around for that one, or for the one in 2729 when it will be even closer again!

Shining with a visual magnitude of -2.9, Mars is currently the brightest object in the night sky, with the exception of the Sun and the Moon. At precisely 7:51pm on Wednesday 27 August, 2003, Mars’ distance from the Earth was a mere 55,758,006 km (34,646,418 miles), and appeared just over 25.1 arc seconds in diameter, which is larger than any time in recorded Astronomical history. Back in 57617 BC, Mars was ~55,718,000 km from Earth at its closest approach, and would have appeared to have a diameter of 25.13 arc seconds, but no one seems to have taken any photos of that opposition!

If you missed seeing Mars at 7:51 on Wednesday 27 August, 2003, don't worry, because it will be there for quite some time. It is simply that at 7:51pm that Mars was closest to the Earth, and is not the only time at which Mars will be visible.

Mars - Courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Where Can I Find Mars?

To see Mars, take a walk outside a few hours after sunset and look up towards the East (where the Sun rises). Mars will remain easily visible right throughout August and September, and will be visible right throughout the year, however it will become dimmer and smaller as the weeks go by.

If you don't have too many trees or high-rise buildings obscuring your view, you should see a very bright “star” shining with a reddish / yellowish tinge. What separates this "star" from other stars, is that it will not be "twinkling" like all the other stars.

Mars will actually be the brightest object in the night sky apart from the moon, and its reddish colour will make it quite easy to find.

If you do have too many trees or high-rise buildings obscuring your view, it is definetely worth the effort of going somewhere that you can see Mars, as it is well worth the effort. Otherwise, just wait for around 284 years, at which time Mars will be a tiny bit closer again to Earth!

Mars - Courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Where Can I Go To Observe Mars?

If you are looking for an “up-close-and-personal” look at Mars, why not contact a Local Astronomy Club and observe Mars through various types of telescopes.

The Astronomical Society of New South Wales Inc will be hosting Mars Observing Nights (Mars Parties) at its two observing sites, Wiruna near Ilford (between Lithgow and Mudgee), and Crago Observatory near North Richmond in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, only just over an hour from Sydney. Visitors are more than welcome to join in the observing sessions.

What Am I Likely To See?

Observing Mars through a telescope will enable you to see many surface features, including Polar Ice Caps, dark continent-like marking across the surface, and occasionally cloud features crossing the planet’s surface. With any luck these features should be clearly visible through a good telescope, however remain alert for the possibility of a global dust storm on Mars, which would result in a bright red disc with little or no features – Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies (on Earth AND Mars!)

Photos of Mars taken by ASNSW Members can be seen by clicking here!