Mars and Earth are about to get cosmically cozy

Get yourself to a telescope, fast!

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of Mars on May 12, 2016.

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

Next week, Mars and Earth will have their closest encounter since 2003.

The planetary dalliance will happen Tuesday. They'll be a mere 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) apart. The last time the two planets got this cozy, Clay Aiken was burning up the pop charts and Freddy vs. Jason was cleaning up at the box office.

The festivities actually start Friday when Mars, Earth and the sun line up, marking an event called Mars opposition. This is a cosmic sandwich, with Earth in the middle and the sun and Mars on directly opposite sides of us. 

NASA  has posted a primer on Mars' close approach on its Tumblr page, noting that this month and next are perfect times to take a look through a telescope.

"You should be able to make out some of the light and dark features, and sometimes polar ice," NASA said. Just keep in mind the Red Planet's global dust storm is blurring some of the details at the moment.

Due to its proximity, Mars will appear brighter than normal. It will be at its brightest from Friday to Monday as it nears its closest distance to Earth, according to NASA

Your next chance at viewing a close approach of Mars will happen in late 2020.

If you don't have a telescope of your own, then look for a local astronomy club. You can also check out the Virtual Telescope Project's July 27 Mars online viewing session, which coincides with a major lunar eclipse.

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