Mars Reaches its Closest Approach to Earth for 11 Years

Monday, May 30, 2016 - 14:55

Mars reaches its closest approach to Earth this evening at 21:35 GMT and it will be just 75 million kilometers away.

Mars is at its closest to Earth in 11 years on Monday (May 30) - It will be only 75 million kilometres away.

A close approach between Earth and Mars, known as opposition, occurs every 2 years and two months. It takes place because our planet catches up with Mars and undertakes it, like a runner on the inside track. Some oppositions are closer than others because Mars follows an elliptical orbit and it depends on whether we catch up when Mars is close to the sun or far away.

The planet is so bright during its closest approach that it can be seen with the naked eye. it is visible near the constellation Scorpius low in the southern sky (in the Northern Hemisphere). Mars is above and to the right of Scorpius' brightest star Antares, which is called the "rival of Mars" because sometimes the Red Planet passes close by the star.

The energy required to launch a projectile towards Mars is minimal at the time of a close opposition, and this year the European Space Agency will be exploiting the opportunity afforded by the approach, sending a probe for exploration of the planet in search of life. According to The Guardian, the probe, which was launched in March, will enter orbit in October. Known as the Trace Gas Orbiter, its mission is to look for evidence of life. The focus of this investigation will be to measure methane levels and determine the possibility of its coming from martian microbes, which could potentially be living below the surface of the planet.

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