For the next couple of weeks, Mars will look bigger than it’s looked in a decade! And no, this is not a hoax.
Every August, the Internet goes a little crazy over claims that the Red Planet is about to look twice as big as the moon in the night sky. That viral hoax got started in 2003, when some folks scrambled up reports about Mars’ historic close approach during that summer.
Mars isn’t coming quite as close as it did back then, and it certainly won’t be anywhere near as big as the moon. But by May 30, the distance between Earth and Mars will shrink to 46.8 million miles, which is closer than any other approach since 2005.
That closeness is due to the position of Earth and Mars in their elliptical orbits as they line up with each other and with the sun. On May 22, Mars will be directly opposite the sun, looming right in the center of the night sky at astronomical midnight. The occasion is known as opposition.
Because Mars’ full disk is illuminated, as seen from Earth, opposition is an especially good time to check out the Red Planet with your naked eye, with binoculars … or with the Hubble Space Telescope.