Beginning on Sunday, Mars is expected to be closer to the Earth than it has been in at least a decade, making it visible from Earth for the next several days. During that time, Mars will be in opposition, or aligned with the sun while Earth sits in between the two. The best views will come through a telescope, but there are still opportunities to see Mars in opposition without a telescope.
Mars comes into opposition only once every two years — 26 months, to be exact. This time, experts expect the Red Planet to come even closer to Earth than usual. As a result, Mars will appear bigger and brighter in the sky, as the sun's light reflects off of its surface, in the same way that the moon appears lighted. With a telescope, even a relatively simple one, viewers will be able to see the planet in great detail.
Without a telescope, Mars will be much more difficult to see, according to Australian astronomer Dr. Ian Musgrave. "From the point of view of someone standing around looking into the sky, it is just going to be a bright dot," he told ABC Australia, where Mars had already become visible. But go out in the night, between 10 p.m. and midnight, to see it anyway.
If you don't have a telescope, you can also attend a Mars viewing event in your area. For example, the Emil Buehler Planetarium in Sanford, Florida, will host events on Monday and Tuesday. Additionally, Slooh and Astronomy Magazine will team up to offer a live-stream of Mars on Tuesday and on Monday, May 30, when Mars will be at its closest distance to Earth.
It's been a big weekend in the sky, even aside from the enlarged appearance of Mars. On Saturday, the first and only Blue Moon of 2016 was visible. Although the moon doesn't actually appear blue, a full moon is considered a Blue Moon when it's the third one in a season of four full moons. The Blue Moon was visible throughout the United States, where clear skies permitted viewing, but an online live-stream was also available.
Clear skies will likely help in viewing Mars on Sunday night, also. If you miss out, though, plan to look for a brighter, larger dot than usual in the sky for at least the next week. If your interest in the Red Planet is particularly piqued, you might consider purchasing a simple telescope between now and then.