Mars to be in opposition and make a close approach in July

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Mars is shining at its brightest in years - look for the bright red "star" in the night sky - and will soon make its closest approach to Earth since 2003. And on Friday, Mars will be in opposition.

By mid-August, the planet will become fainter as Mars and Earth travel farther away from each other in their orbits around the sun. That means Mars and the sun will be on exact opposite sides of us.

Every 15 or 17 years, opposition occurs within a few weeks of Mars' perihelion - the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun.

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This summer, opposition occurs July 27, or overnight Thursday into early Friday morning. Back in 2003, Mars had come close to our planet and that was an event in which the Red Planet was that close after 60,000 years.

But some perihelic oppositions bring Earth and Mars closer together than others, the U.S. space agency said. "If Earth and Mars followed perfectly circular orbits, opposition would be as close as the two planets could get". Mars can be seen near Capricornus.

Nasa has said that there is now a dust storm which is affecting the whole planet, so this may make seeing details on Mars a little more hard for astronomers. If the storm doesn't break, skywatchers may only see a big orange disk, according to Mike Lynch, an amateur astronomer and professional meteorologist writing for twincities.com in Minneapolis.

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The good news about all the Martian dust is that it reflects sunlight, which will make it shine brighter than usual, according to Widener University astronomer Harry Augensen. The sun, moon and Venus are usually the top three brightest objects. The rare event started on May 30 when scientists observed that a small storm was forming on Mars. Mars will remain brighter than Jupiter until around September 7. It also coincides with the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century, which will last 1 hour, 43 minutes. Mars will be visible to the naked eye for most of the night.

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