June 10, 2018: It’s official. Mars is now brighter than any star in the sky. Last week, the Red Planet surpassed Sirius in apparent luminosity. If you wake up before dawn, you can’t help noticing Mars burning through the morning twilight with a distinctive orange glow. This morning in Burgundy, France, photographer Jean-Baptiste Feldmann captured the planet shining over the castle Clos de Vougeot:
“It truly was brighter than any star in the sky,” says Feldmann.
What’s happening? Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter–the best one in 15 years. On July 27th, Mars will be at opposition. Oppositions of Mars happen roughly every 2 years, but this one is special. It is a “perihelic opposition.” Mars will be near perihelion, its closest approach to the sun. Perihelic oppositions also bring Mars extra-close to Earth.
The last time this happened was on Aug. 27, 2003, when Mars famously made its closest approach to Earth in almost 60,000 years. Around the world, people organized “Mars parties” to celebrate the extraordinary size and brightness of the Red Planet. This July will be almost as good with Mars only a few percent farther away than it was during its historic encounter 15 years ago. Between now and then, Mars will triple in brightness, outshining even the giant planet Jupiter. Stay tuned for that!