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If your skies are clear on Friday night, January 29, 2010, take advantage of one of the skywatching highlights of the year. A full Moon and Mars will be putting on a show, and the pair will be prominently close to each other in the sky. Plus, this Friday night’s full Moon is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. It’s a “perigee Moon,” as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than other full Moons you’ll see later in 2010, according to Spaceweather.com. And, even though you’ve likely not gotten an email from an excited acquaintance relaying that Mars is really close to the Earth now — that is the case. Mars is at opposition on the 29th, which means it lines up opposite the Sun and is now the closest to Earth their orbits, and so will shine brighter.
The image above of the not-quite-full Moon from January 27, 2010 is shared by Universe Today reader Alan Walters, from Florida. You can see more of his wonderful photography of the night sky, launches and shuttle landings, Florida wildlife and more at Alan Walters Photography.
This image, courtesy of Stardate Online and the McDonald Observatory, shows the positions of the Moon and Mars in the night sky the next few evenings.
This is not a great opposition for Mars because it occurs around the time that Earth is closest to the Sun and Mars is farthest. The gap between the two planets will be a hefty 62 million miles (99 million km). The smallest possible distance at opposition is about 35 million miles (56 million km), which happened a back in August of 2003, and prompted the infamous emails that now surface every August, that Mars would be as big the full Moon, which of course, is not — and was not — true. Mars appeared more than twice as bright then as it will this year, but was still a star-like dot in the sky.
JPL is sponsoring a Facebook Event, Friday Night With the Moon and Mars, to heighten awareness of what a great sight it will be; plus its a great way to share in the experience with others online.
And for more information, see this Science@NASA article about the close encounter.