During May 2016 the Earth and Mars get closer to each other than at any time in the last ten years. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has exploited this special configuration to catch a new image of our red neighbor, showing some of its famous surface features. This image supplements previous Hubble observations of Mars and allows astronomers to study large-scale changes on its surface.
On May 22, Mars will be at opposition, the point at which the planet is located directly opposite the Sun in the sky. This means that the Sun, Earth and Mars are all lined up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and the red planet.
Opposition also marks the planet’s closest approach to Earth, so that Mars appears bigger and brighter in the sky than at any other time. This allows astronomers using telescopes in space and on the ground to see more details on the Martian surface. For observers using ground-based instruments the opposing planet is visible throughout the night and is also fully illuminated, making it a great opportunity for detailed studies.
On May 12, the Hubble telescope took advantage of this favorable alignment and turned its gaze towards Mars to take an image of our rusty-hued neighbor, adding it to the collection of previous images. From this distance the telescope could see Martian features as small as 20 miles across.
WATCH MARS LIVE ONLINE ON MEMORIAL DAY. On Monday, May 30th, at 6:00 p.m. PDT, the international astronomy-outreach organization Slooh will share brilliant live views of Mars at closest approach with the public, looking through a telescope at the Canary Island Observatory.
Due to their respective orbits, Mars and Earth are locked in a dance that makes Mars’ apparent size and brightness change dramatically over 26-months. Mars’ distance from the Earth can vary between between 33.5 million and 249 million miles, meaning that its apparent size varies by sevenfold from Earth’s viewpoint. During the live show, Slooh Astronomers Paul Cox and Bob Berman will be on hand to take viewers on a live tour of the Red Planet, discussing everything from scientific study of the planet to its cultural significance in antiquity through to sci-fi movies, and even the possibility that it may have once harbored life.
“The size of Mars varies more than any other planet, and we’ve waited a full decade for it to come this close and appear this large,” says Bob Berman.
Live Stream starts: 6:00 PM PDT | 9:00 PM EDT | 01:00UTC
Live Stream ends: 7:00 PM PDT | 10:00 PM EDT | 02:00UTC
To watch Slooh’s’s live coverage:
Image credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)