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These pictures show Mars during a "close" and a "far" opposition. An opposition can happen anywhere along the orbit of Mars; these views show a very close oppostion and a very far opposition.
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Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy M. Russell

Mars Close to Earth in August 2003
News story originally written on August 7, 2003

On August 27, 2003, Earth and Mars will be very close together. Well, close for planets anyways. The two planets will still be almost 56 million kilometers (about 35 million miles) apart. They will be closer together than they have been in a very long time. In fact, astronomers think it has been almost 60 thousand years since Earth and Mars were closer together than they will be this time. The last time the two planets were this close, Neanderthal cave-people were still around!

Earth and Mars get pretty close together once every 26 months. When they get close, astronomers call the event an "opposition". That is because the Sun and Mars are on opposite sides of the sky during an opposition. The orbit of Mars is not quite a circle. It is shaped more like an oval. Sometimes Earth gets close to Mars when Mars is at just the right place in its orbit. When it does, we have a really "close" opposition. That is what will happen near the end of August.

When Earth is close to Mars, Mars looks like a very bright star in the sky. If you get a chance to see Mars through a telescope, it will look a bit bigger than usual. If you want a really close-up view of Mars, though, the best way to get that is to look at pictures from spacecraft orbiting Mars!

Last modified August 7, 2003 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF