MARS CLOSE APPROACHES
Mars Close Approaches
What's Up For May 2016
In 2016, Mars will appear brightest from May 18-June 3. Its closest approach to Earth is May 30. That is the point in Mars' orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Mars Close Approach
What is Mars Close Approach?
Close approach is when Mars and Earth come nearest to each other in their orbits around the sun. Close is a relative term. The minimum distance from the Earth to Mars is about 54.6 million kilometers. However, that doesn't happen very often.
If Earth and Mars had perfectly circular orbits, their minimum distance would always be the same. However, they have elliptical (egg-shaped) paths.
When Mars and Earth are close to each other, Mars appears very bright in our sky. It also makes it easier to see with telescopes or the naked eye. The Red Planet comes close enough for exceptional viewing only once or twice every 15 or 17 years.
However, don't be fooled by the Mars Hoax! Since 2003, this urban legend gets circulated through email and social media every time Mars makes a close approach.
The message is that Mars will look as big as the Moon in our night sky. If that were true, we'd be in big trouble given the gravitational pulls on Earth, Mars, and our Moon!
When does Mars Close Approach Occur?
Since Mars and Earth are at their closest, it's generally the best time to go to Mars. Many Mars missions have taken advantage of the close distance to visit the red planet. That's why, depending on budgets, you'll often see that Mars missions launch about every two years:
Next Mars Close Approach in 2018
An artist's view of the size of Mars during closest approach in 2016 and 2018.
Miss seeing Mars Close Approach in 2016? Not to worry! The next Mars Close Approach is Jul. 31, 2018.