Larry Koehn at the beautiful website shadowandsubstance.com created this video, which shows the 2016 oppositions of Mars and Saturn and tracks their motions on our sky’s dome from January to September. He’s showing the planets not as they would appear to the eye, but as a telescope would show them. He wrote:
Opposition occurs when a planet is in line with the Earth and the sun. This year, Mars will be at opposition on May 22 followed by Saturn on June 3. Opposition of a planet also means the planet can be seen all night long from sunset to sunrise. Mars this year will come close as 47 million miles to Earth in May.
Yes, it will be an excellent opposition of Mars this year!
And here are some things to notice about this video:
1. Notice that – when they are at opposition around late May and early June – Mars and Saturn appear close together on our sky’s dome. In fact, they’re already close together on the sky’s dome, as you’ll notice if you look at the chart below. It makes sense, because their oppositions in 2016 take place so near each other in time.
2. Notice that, as Larry shows in the video, Mars grows apparently larger around its late May opposition. That’s because, as he said, opposition takes place when a planet is in line with the Earth and sun. It happens when Earth goes between that planet and the sun. Mars is the next planet outward in orbit around the sun. It’s nearer to us in space than Saturn, and, at opposition, it’s especially near. That’s why Mars will appear so large in our sky – as seen through a telescope – around its May 22, 2016, opposition.
3. Notice that – by tracking these worlds on our sky’s dome from January to September of this year – he’s also portraying the retrograde loops of the planets, which begin and end with each planet’s stationary point (marked in the video) in our sky.
Bottom line: Mars will reach opposition on May 22, and Saturn on June 3. As a result, they now appear near each other in our sky. This video from Larry Koehn at shadowandsubstance.com tracks their motion on our sky’s from January to September, 2016.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.