Our chance to see Mars in the night sky

Mars. Picture: NASA.

Mars. Picture: NASA.

Sky watchers will have a rare chance to see Mars - the Red Planet - as it approaches its closest point to Earth for 11 years.

On Monday, May 30th, Mars will be 47.2 million miles from Earth and is due to remain close and bright for the first two weeks in June.

Sky watchers add that Mars will form a triangle of celestial treats with the planet Saturn and red supergiant star Antares.

Mars normally appears tiny even through medium-sized amateur telescopes. But, according to Alan MacRobert, from Sky & Telescope magazine: “Mars looks almost scary now.”

Mars can be seen low in the south-east and it does not take great magnification to pick out details such as clouds and polar caps.

Robin Scagell, of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “It certainly is worth taking a look at Mars. I observed it through quite a small five inch reflecting telescope at the beginning of the month and could see a surprising amount of detail.

“Mars is now quite large in the sky, about 18 seconds of arc across (0.3 degrees). It looks very red because it’s so low in the sky, scraping the rooftops really.

“If you want to see some detail you need a telescope with 75 - 100 times magnification. The best time to see it is around 1am.

“Saturn is next to Mars at the moment and you can see the difference between the two planets. Saturn looks yellowish.”

Mr MacRobert offered advice to amateur astronomers trying to find Antares.

“Look below Mars by about the width of your fist at arm’s length,” he said. “If Antares is still too low, wait a while and everything will rise higher. Antares is fainter but it also has a fiery colour.”