Mars Close Approach and Opposition: When and Where You Can Have 'Exceptional Viewing'

Mars's summer travel plans include a trip toward Earth, and at the end of July, people around the globe will be able to head outside and get a clear glimpse of our galactic neighbor on two separate occasions.

A Mars opposition will take place on July 27 at 1:13 a.m ET, which, according to (NASA), means that Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of the Earth. While the planet has been growing in the night sky throughout 2018, AccuWeather explained that on Thursday night, people will have the best view since 2003.

Along with shining brightly in the sky, Mars will appear just below a full moon, during a "blood moon" eclipse that will be visible to large parts of the Eastern Hemisphere. While the spectacle will be visible to anyone who ventures outside and looks up at the sky, those using a telescope may be able to see details of Mars, according to AccuWeather.

Fortunately for those who may have their view interrupted by inclement weather on Thursday night, there's another opportunity on July 31 to marvel at the red planet. On July 31 at 3:50 a.m. ET, Mars's orbit will bring it closest to the Earth in what's called a Mars close approach. Close is relative, as NASA explained that it will still be at least 35.8 million miles away—however, it's nonetheless a rare occurrence.

"The Red Planet comes close enough for exceptional viewing only once or twice every 15 or 17 years," NASA states on its website.

For the best glimpse of Mars, try to find a spot that's free of trees and buildings, so there's nothing blocking the view. Viewers in the United States will have the best view at midnight local time when the planet is highest in the sky, though The Washington Post pointed out that just after sunset is a great time to get a photograph.

While everyone will be able to see the planet, the farther south a person goes, the better the view, according to Astronomy Magazine. Although total darkness seems ideal for stargazing, Astronomy Magazine recommended putting a white light off to the side so your daytime vision, which is superior to a human's nighttime vision, kicks into gear.

Mars will remain visible until the first week of September, but as summer dwindles, the planet will get continuously dimmer.

Getting to see Mars clearly isn't the only benefit that a Mars close approach has for its earthly neighbors and NASA explained that because of the shortened distance, it's a great time for a Mars mission. InSight, an outer space robotic explorer, is currently headed to Mars to give the planet its "first thorough checkup," according to NASA. It's scheduled to land on Mars in November.

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The Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Mars InSight probe launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base as seen from the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, California. David McNew/Getty Images

Mars came within 34.6 miles of the Earth in 2003 in what is the closest encounter the two have had in about 60,000 years and won't happen again until 2287, according to NASA. The next time Mars will have a close approach to Earth will happen in 2020, according to NASA, though Astronomy Magazine noted that it won't be this bright again until 2035.

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A photo of Mars taken from the Ikonos satellite. On July 31, Mars's orbit will bring it closest to the Earth. Handout/Getty Images
Mars Close Approach and Opposition: When and Where You Can Have 'Exceptional Viewing' | U.S.