The Red Planet Goes Brighter

Get set to experience a fantastic moment this weekend when ‘The Red Planet’ would become brighter during its meandering journey over the sky. For the first time, Mars would be closest to the Earth, after Aug. 28. In only five and a half weeks we can observe the planet, just before the midnight, low in the east-southeast. As each week progresses, the earth will be brighter, and its yellowish-orange glow and vividness will be equal to that of Jupiter. 

Let’s go back to the New Year’s Eve when Mars twinkled 292 million kilometers away from Earth. The distance lessened to 68.2 million kilometers at the end of the following week. At present, it shines twenty-five times brighter. It is on an easterly route and halts its movement on June 28.  Mars would start to backpedal its route moving back towards the west. Finally, on August 28 the Red planet would cease the motion for a short while and restart once again its eastward journey. This is called “retrograde movement” of planets. Each planet in the solar system performs this kind of motion. Back in the ancient times, astronomers couldn’t give an adequate reason for this behavior. If Mars diverges its normal path, then it would be due to this retrograde motion which would make it lower than its regular orbital path.  In the past astronomers also failed to explain why Mars make a zig-zag motion at one and a loop in other times. Greeks gave a vague and useless answer to this, supposing that planets move around the earth in smaller ‘epicycles’ and result in complex spiral curves. It was Nicolaus Copernicus who in his book ‘De revolutionibus’ explained the reason behind the retrograde motion and looping. He successfully deciphered the mystery by relegating Earth from its place at the center of the solar system and exchanging it with the sun.

Does Mars stop or reverse its course for real? 

No, it is just an illusion. Mars moves in an elliptical path around the sun. When we see Mars, we observe it from Earth’s panorama. It’s like watching a slower and a faster car moving in a similar direction, where a slow-moving vehicle appears to be moving backward when compared to the faster car. This is what people are going to observe when the slower planet, ‘Mars’ would appear to move backward than the faster planet, ‘Earth.’ After August 28, the brightness of Mars would start to pale quickly.