This is among the best times in years to see Mars in the night sky. Here’s how to do it.

Growing up, I don’t really remember ever wanting to be anything other than a meteorologist.

It was my dream. I loved watching the sky. While my favorite thing to see in the night sky are thunderstorms off in the distance, I am still very drawn to gazing outside of our own atmosphere.

One of the greatest sights in the sky over the last week or so has been the brilliance of the planet Mars in our southeastern sky.

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It really has been quite easy to see the planet as the color difference from the other objects in the night sky are quite different. When Mars is fainter in the sky, it appears more reddish. When it’s closer and brighter, the color appears more orange.

Typically, Mars is the fifth-brightest celestial object in the night sky, with the brightest four in order being the moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Sirius. But right now, Mars is brighter than even Jupiter.

The first thing to realize is that Mars isn’t a very big world. It is 4,219 miles in diameter, making it only slightly more than half as big as Earth, which is 7,922 miles in diameter. So, when it’s bright, that brightness isn’t due to its size, as is the case with Jupiter.

The main reason for Mars’ extremes in brightness has to do with the proximity of Earth and Mars during the orbits of both worlds 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.

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Earth and Mars end up on the same side of the sun every 2.2 years. But because the two planets’ orbits are elliptical, they’re sometimes close and sometimes far apart. This month through early August, they happen to be very close. Right now, the two planets are at the second closest point they’ve been in nearly 60,000 years.

In 2003, Mars was the closest to Earth when the two planets were about 34.6 million miles apart. Right now, Mars is about 35.8 million miles away, giving us the best view of the red planet until 2035.

This week, Mars is rising at around 10 p.m. over the Miami Valley, and by the end of July it will be rising as the sun goes down, around 8:30 p.m. Mars will be very visible on clear nights fairly low in the southeastern sky.

If you have a chance to see it clearly through a telescope, you’ll notice Mars looks a bit hazy right now due to a major “weather” event on the planet’s surface. A large dust storm is currently swirling around the planet, and dust storms on Mars can last weeks.

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