Clear your calendar for the night of April 14 as two remarkable space events occur within hours of each other: the "opposition of Mars," when the red planet will come within 92 million kilometers of Earth, and a total lunar eclipse.
Ninety-two million kilometers (about 57 million miles) may sound like a vast distance -- it's more than a six-month flight for NASA's fastest rockets -- but in space terms, that's practically next door.
As NASA explains,
"Astronomers call this event an "opposition of Mars" because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky. Mars rises in the east at sunset, and soars almost overhead at midnight, shining burnt-orange almost 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star."
April 8 is the actual date of opposition but on April 14, Mars will be even closer to Earth; in fact, as the date draws nearer the distance between Earth and Mars decreases by about 300 kilometers each minute.
If you're an "experienced astro-photographer," your view of Mars may be even more extraordinary, says NASA:
"Experienced astro-photographers using state-of-the-art digital cameras can tease out even more—for example, dust storms, orographic clouds over Martian volcanoes, and icy fogs in the great Hellas impact basin. The view has been described by some observers as "Hubblesque.""
Later that evening, the total lunar eclipse will require staying up into the early hours of April 15... but it should be well worth the wait. The event starts at 12:54 a.m. EDT and the total lunar eclipse begins at 3:07 a.m. EDT, according to Astronomy magazine; for nearly 80 minutes, the moon will be in shadow.
The eclipse is the first in a tetrad of lunar eclipses, the above video from NASA Science explains, with three more following at six-month intervals: October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015. What makes this tetrad unique is that all four eclipses will be visible from all or parts of the United States, according to the video.
Watch for the sky to take on "a dramatically colorful appearance, ranging from bright orange to blood red." No word, however, on whether we'll be able to see the Mars blueberries:
Will you stay up all night April 14-15 to see Mars and the total lunar eclipse?
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