SCIENCE

Mars Opposition To Bring Earth, Red Planet Close Together This Month (VIDEO)

04/02/2014 03:28 pm ET | Updated Apr 06, 2014

How far away is Mars from planet Earth? It's complicated.

Earth and Mars have separate, elliptical orbits around the sun, and the distance between the two planets ranges from a maximum of 401 million kilometers to a minimum of 55 million kilometers. And this month, the distance between our planet and its second-nearest planetary neighbor (only Venus is nearer) is shrinking by around 300 kilometers a second.

In astronomical terms, we're approaching the opposition of Mars, which occurs once every 26 months.

When Mars is closest to us, it appears to be on the opposite side of the sky than the sun -- hence the name "opposition." Just see for yourself in this new ScienceatNASA YouTube video above.

The fun begins on April 8. On that day, Mars will be aligned with the sun and the earth. But this year we'll be closest to Mars on April 14, when we'll be separated by 92 million kilometers (a tad more distant than the 55-million-kilometer absolute minimum).

Mars should be especially bright in the night sky that evening, shining nearly 10 times brighter than the average star.

"You won't have any trouble finding Mars on this night," the video's narrator says. "The full moon will be gliding by the Red Planet in the constellation Virgo providing a can't-miss landmark in the midnight sky."

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