If you have noticed a particularly bright red star shining in the night sky recently, take another look. That "star" is actually Mars, and its about to be bigger and brighter than it has been in 15 years.
Mars opposition is taking place on July 27, which is when Earth passes in between Mars and the sun, putting the two planets near their closest points to each other. The Red Planet will be brilliant in the sky, brighter than Jupiter (which is usually the second brightest planet after Venus) between July 7 and September 7, but it will be particularly spectacular on July 27, according to .
According to , a Mars opposition occurs every 26 months, but every 15 to 17 years the opposition occurs near Mars' perihelion—the point when the planet's orbit is closest to the sun, making it even brighter in the sky when viewed from Earth. The last time a Mars opposition lined up with a Mars perihelion was in 2003, when Mars was at its brightest in the sky in roughly 60,000 years.
This month's Mars opposition will not be quite as bright as 2003, but it will be close. Because Earth is closer to the sun than Mars, it orbits the sun about twice as fast. Every 26 months, Earth passes Mars in just the right position to transit across the face of the sun from the perspective of Mars. At this point, known as opposition, Mars is not only very close to Earth, but also bathed in direct sunlight from our perspective, making the Red Planet spectacularly bright. Mars will be a mere 35.8 million miles away when it reaches its this time around.
However, it will have to compete with the moon for stargazers' attention, because July 27 will also feature a total lunar eclipse that will last for a remarkable 103 minutes—making it the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. However, the eclipse will only be visible in parts of Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America (though a full moon will join the brightly shining Mars in the sky for the rest of the world, and Saturn will be visible as well). A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through Earth’s shadow, at which point it takes on a reddish tint, giving it the nickname "blood moon."
Mars will reach its highest point around midnight on the night of July 27 and morning of July 28. The Red Planet's next close approach to the Earth will take place on October 6, 2020.