Mars will outshine its celestial neighbors Sunday night
If Mother Nature cooperates Sunday evening, sky watchers will be able to get a pretty impressive view of Mars as it outshines Sirius, the brightest star in the Earth's night sky.
On Sunday, Mars will be at opposition, meaning that the red planet and the sun will be on directly opposite sides of Earth. Mars will rise in the east, just as the sun begins to set, according to NASA. Because it will be illuminated by the sun's rays, it will be one of the brightest objects in the sky, aside from the sun and moon.
In general, Mars oppositions take place roughly every 26 months. Although both Earth and Mars orbit the sun, Earth is closer so it orbits more quickly, making two trips in the time it takes Mars to circle the sun once. Every once in a while, Earth catches up with Mars, and the two planets pass each other pretty closely, NASA explains.
But if the clouds over the Garden State don't dissipate by evening and sky gazers miss the show, NASA says there's an even better view coming up on May 30, as Mars gets closer to Earth than it has since 2005. According to NASA, the red planet will only be about 46.8 million miles away from our home planet on that date, which is relatively close, given the size of the solar system. This is known as a Mars Close Approach, and the next one won't take place until July 31, 2018.
"If Earth and Mars followed perfectly circular orbits, opposition would be as close as the two planets could get," NASA states on its website.
Where do I look?
Face the southeast around 11 p.m. and look for Mars in proximity to the moon, according to NASA. It will appear reddish in color, but unlike stars, it won't twinkle. Saturn and Antares - a red "supergiant" star - will be nearby, but not as bright as the red planet.
To the left of Mars, will be another eye-catching luminous body: Saturn. The ringed planet is also having an opposition, NASA says. It will be closest to Earth on June 3, at 840 million miles. While it will be visible, it won't be as bright as Mars on Sunday.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.