In the evening of Wednesday (December 7) and until the wee hours of Thursday (December 8), Mars will be directly opposite the sun in the sky in an astronomical arrangement called an opposition. March will be in the Taurus Constellation in opposition and will be visible for most of the night peaking around midnight local time across the globe.
Skywatchers in New York will see the arrangement beginning around 4:55 p.m. EST on December 7 (21:35 GMT) when it rises 7 degrees above the horizon to the northeast. according In the sky (opens in a new tab). The Red Planet will peak in the sky at 74 degrees above the southern horizon at around 11:41 p.m. EST (0441 GMT). Following this, March at the opposition will disappear from view on Thursday morning (December 8) when it drops below 7 degrees on the northwest horizon and disappear from view around 6:27 a.m. EST (11:27 GMT). (The width of your fist at arm’s length is about 10 degrees in the sky.)
Tonight’s example of the Red Planet in opposition also coincides with the rise of the cold full moonthe last full moon of 2022, as well as a lunar occultation of Mars seen from many parts of the globe. Discover our guide to viewing times and locations to see if you can witness the occultation from where you are. If you can’t see the event in person, you can still watch the lunar occultation of Mars online for free, through several webcasts from observatories around the world.
Mars is in opposition due to how the solar system will be arranged tonight. March, Earth, and the sun will be in a straight line with our planet and the red planet on the same side of our star. Earth will sit in the middle of Mars and the sunallowing the planet to appear sunlit from our vantage point.
During opposition, Mars will also make its closest approach to Earth, known as perigee. This means it will appear both brighter and larger in the night sky than usual.
While many of solar system planets become a bit brighter and larger as they approach our planet in close proximity, the effect is most extreme for Mars. The Red Planet displays the greatest variation in its apparent size and luminosity during perigee, with its angular size increasing up to seven times.
This wide variation in the appearance of Mars is due to the fact that the distance between Mars and Earth has a much wider range, from about 250 million miles (401 million kilometers) to the farthest at about 33.5 million miles (54 million km) to the nearest. The average distance between Earth, the third planet in the solar system, and Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, is about 140 million miles (225 million km).
Because Mars spends most of its time away from us, times when its orbit is closer to our planet and away from the sun in the sky provide skywatchers with an excellent opportunity to observe the Red Planet.
According Nasa (opens in a new tab), Mars oppositions occur roughly every 26 months with the red planet rising in the east as the sun sets in the west; following opposition, Mars then sets in the west on the morning of December 8 as the sun rises in the east. Mars will appear big and bright for just a few weeks around tonight’s astronomical setting. Mars will then be in opposition in January 2025.
Although Mars in opposition is visible to the naked eye, to see the red planet as anything more than a speck of light, skywatchers will need the help of a telescope. If you need a telescope or even binoculars, be sure to read our guides for the best binoculars and the best telescopes to see Mars at opposition and other celestial spectacles. To capture the best images of Mars you can, don’t miss our recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor’s note: If you are photographing Mars during its opposition and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, and name and location to email@example.com.