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Earth goes between sun and Mars on April 8. Mars at opposition

2014-april-8-mars-arcturus-spica-night-sky-chart

Tonight for April 8, 2014

In April 2014, Mars and Earth will be on the same side of the sun.  Earth will be passing between the sun and Mars.   Image via Fourmilab.

Mars (fourth orbit) and Earth (third orbit) are on the same side of the sun in April 2014. Image via Fourmilab.

On April 8, 2014, our planet Earth in its smaller, faster orbit passes in between the sun and red planet Mars. Our motion in orbit places Mars opposite the sun as seen in our sky, in other words, rising at sunset and up all night! Astronomers will say that Mars is in opposition to the sun.

Mars is bright now! It’s easy to see with the unaided eye from all parts of Earth – as bright as the sky’s brightest star. Mars is brighter than it’s been for six years, since December 2007.

Follow the links below to learn more.

How can I see Mars in April 2014?

When is Mars brightest, and why?

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica - and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars. Read more on our April 4 program

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica – and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars. Read more on our April 4 program

Here's a way to find Mars, and the star Spica, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here’s a way to confirm Mars sighting if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Look for the little squarish constellation Corvus the Crow.

Mars is in front of the constellation Virgo.  Spica is Virgo's brightest star.  EarthSky Facebook friend Henrique Feliciano Silva in Lisbon, Portugal photographed Mars and its surrounding stars and created this great star map.  Thank you, Henrique!

Mars is in front of the constellation Virgo. Spica is Virgo’s brightest star. EarthSky Facebook friend Henrique Feliciano Silva in Lisbon, Portugal photographed Mars and its surrounding stars and created this great star map. Thank you, Henrique! View more photos by Henrique Feliciano Silva.

How can I see Mars in April 2014? Mars ranks as the second-brightest planet in the April 2014 evening sky, after the giant planet Jupiter. Mars and the star Sirius have about the same brightness, but it’ll easy to distinguish Mars from Sirius – or from Jupiter – because Mars is so red in color. Meanwhile, you might notice that Sirius sparkles in an array of color while Jupiter is cream-colored and, like Mars, shines with a steadier light.

Mars appears in the east at nightfall, close to the horizon after sunset and ascending in the east as night passes. Jupiter and Sirius, on the other hand, appear on the other side of the sky at sunset, on opposite sides of the very noticeable constellation Orion.

Plus Mars is near a bright star now, Spica in the constellation Virgo. A bright red light visible in the east in the evening, near a sparkling blue-white star (Spica), is sure to be Mars.

The constellation orion, the dazzling planet Jupiter and the super-bright star Sirius predominate in the southwest on April 2014 evenings.

The constellation Orion, the dazzling planet Jupiter and the super-bright star Sirius dominate in the southwestern on April 2014 evenings. Meanwhile, Mars will be in the east – as bright as Sirius, but not as bright as Jupiter.

When Mars is far from the sun, as on March 3, 2012, it's a particularly distant opposition. But when Mars is near the sun, as on August 28, 2003, it's an extra-close opposition.  Diagram via Sydney Observatory.

The inner dark circle represents Earth’s orbit around the sun; the outer dark circle represents Mars’ orbit. When Mars is near the sun, as it was in 2003, we have an extra-close opposition. On the other hand, 2012 was a particularly distant opposition of Mars because Mars was far from the sun in its orbit. At the 2014 opposition, Mars is getting closer to the sun again and therefore it’ll be closer to us than it was in 2012. But it’s not as close at this opposition as it will be in 2018. Diagram via Sydney Observatory.

When is Mars brightest, and why? At or near opposition, Earth comes closest to Mars for the year. Earth is passing between the sun and Mars now, so the distance between our two planets is least, and Mars, in turn, shines most brilliantly in our sky. Oppositions of Mars are not created equal. Mars is closer to us, and brighter, at this opposition than it has been since December of 2007.

As viewed through a telescope around opposition time, Mars’ disk not only covers more area of sky, but Mars’ surface reflects the light of the sun most directly back to Earth. These factors make Mars all the brighter.

Quite literally, this is Mars’ day in the sun. Take advantage, for Mars won’t be returning to opposition again until May 22, 2016.

By the way, Mars is not precisely closest to Earth on April 8, the day of opposition. Our two worlds will be closest together on April 14. On that night, Mars and the star Spica will appear near the moon as the moon undergoes a total eclipse!

Bottom line: The red planet Mars – next outward from Earth in orbit around the sun – is in opposition to the sun on April 8, 2014. On this day, Earth goes between the sun and Mars. Watch for Mars in the east in the evening, at its highest around midnight, and in the west in the hours before dawn.

A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky planisphere today.

Get your kids interested in astronomy and the sky! Use EarthSky’s lunar calendar as a fun way to enjoy the moon phases throughout the year.