From a distance of only 35.8 million miles, Mars will radiate at a magnitude of about -2.78, shining nearly twice as bright as Jupiter and second only to Venus.
The reason behind the fluctuating brightness has to do with the planet’s proximity to Earth during both planets’ orbits around the sun.
"Sometimes Earth and Mars are on the same side of the solar system, and hence near one another. At other times, as it was throughout most of 2017, Mars is far across the solar system from us," EarthSky.org reported.
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While Earth takes one year to orbit the sun once, it takes Mars about two years. So opposition for Mars (when Earth passes between Mars and the sun) occurs every two years and 50 days, and the planet’s brightness is determined by where the worlds’ orbits around the giant star align.
The last opposition, when Mars came within only 47 million miles of Earth, was on May 22, 2016. In 2003, the planet came within 34.6 million miles — the Earth's closest approach to Mars since Sept. 24, 57,617 B.C. (the Stone Age!)
The next opposition will arrive in 2020, and Mars will be within 38.6 million miles of Earth.
How to see Mars shine bright this July
Folks in South America, South Africa and Australia will get the best views of the Red Planet in all its radiating glory this July.
For those in the United States, Mars may be too low in the sky, even at its highest point (1 a.m. local daylight time).
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"When you look through a telescope with an eyepiece magnifying 75 power, Mars' disk will appear as large as the disk of the moon to the unaided eye," according to Space.com.
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has been exploring the planet since it landed in August 2012 to determine whether the planet was ever able to support microbial life. Learn more about the Mars mission at mars.nasa.gov.