In 2003, Mars was closer and brighter in our sky than in nearly 60,000 years. In 2018, Mars will be at its brightest since then! Start watching Mars now.
Figure 1: As Mars approaches Earth, it will swell from a small apparent disk of 6” in 12 Feb, 2018 to a maximum diameter on 31 July 2018. Then it starts to shrink as it moves away. Opposition occurs on 27 July 2018, and closest approach will happen 4 days later.
In 2003, Mars came within 55.7 million km to Earth, closer than at any time in over nearly 60 thousand years! It’ll be just under 2 million km farther away in 2018. Closest approach for Mars in 2018 will take place on July 31, some four days after its July 27 opposition.
The main reason for Mars’ extremes in brightness has to do with the proximity (or lack of proximity) of Earth and Mars during the orbits of both worlds around the sun.
Mars isn’t big. It is only 6,790 km, making it only slightly more than half as big as Earth at 12,750 km in diameter. So, when it becomes brighter, its brightness isn’t due to its size or bigness.
A pair of binoculars such as 10x50 or 15x70 would be excellent to split the little for naked eye, yet there are many beautiful clusters and nebulae around this area for wide angle observations.
It’s right time to start observing the red planet, especially there are some unique eyeballing events not to be missed. On 3rd April 2018, Mars and Saturn rise after around 1.11am. Both planets are a beautiful pair, which is 2-degree apart only. Mars lays south of Saturn, shines around magnitude 0.2. In order to see the pair in higher altitude from horizon, it appears to be around 3.30 am Malaysian local time and visible until dawn.