The 2003 Opposition of Mars
By Lachlan MacDonald, 2003
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.
If you missed the 2003 opposition, just wait for around 284 years, at which time Mars will be a tiny bit closer again to Earth!
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!)