LiveScience MENU Search

Mars Watch: Complete Viewing Guide

On Aug. 27 at 5:51 a.m. ET (1051 GMT) Mars was less than 34.65 million miles (55.76 million kilometers) away -- closer than it's been in 59,619 years. The show continues as Mars remains enticing through October, 2003.


Mars Mysteries

It Won't Kill You


The Science


Mars Animated

NEW
Hubble Photographs Mars Closer than Ever!
Image made during the night of Aug. 26-27.

Video: Close Encounters of the Martian Kind

< The Last Time Mars Was This Close

Top 10 Close Passes Since 3000 B.C.

< Mars Books, Film, Music

Mars Interest Soars, Telescopes in Short Supply


  • Mars Up Close
  • Earth vs. Mars
  • Top 10 Mars Pics
  • Mars Just 186 Light-Seconds Away!
  • Early Amateur Pictures Roll In
  • Mars' Retrograde Motion
  • Original News Story of the Event
  • Mars Missions: Full Coverage of Red Planet Rovers

Finding the Red Planet

The Roman God of War is still easy to spot. It is an unmistakable beacon of the evening sky. It is up in the southeast as darkness falls, rises high in the south by late evening, and sets well after midnight. [Maps]

What You'll See

The planet usually appears orange or slightly red, though sometimes -- depending conditions in Earth's atmosphere -- it can look yellowish.

Mars brightness peaked in August at magnitude -2.9. On this astronomers' scale, larger numbers mean dimmer objects. Negative numbers are reserved for the brightest objects.

At the beginning of October, Mars will still glimmer at magnitude -2.04, still brighter than all stars, and at the end of the month it will be at -1.16, remaining easy to find.

Telescopes and photography

To the naked eye, Mars is a point of light, like a bright star. To see surface features, you'll need a telescope with a lens at least 70mm in diameter for the refractor type, or 4.25 inches for a reflector. [Telescope buying guide]

Middle-of-the-night observations are best, because Mars is at its highest in our sky, and so its light cuts through less atmosphere and arrives less distorted. Digital cameras can be used to make photographs, even by hand-holding them to a telescope eyepiece. [Photo Tips]

-- Robert Roy Britt contributed to this text


Mars Maps created with Starry Night software ... click to enlarge

At Night: Mars as of about 9 p.m. in mid-October from mid-northern latitudes. Earlier in the month it is lower and toward the southeast (left) at the same time of night. Later in the month it is higher and more due south.

From above: Two panels show where Mars and Earth were in November 2002 and how close they were be in late August 2003. Arrows show direction of orbits, as seen from above the solar system.

Map Mars on Your Computer


Personalized Sky Charts
With Starry Night software, you can create charts for any night from your exact location. Learn more:

Astronomy for the
Entire Family!


BUY IT NOW

The Ultimate
Astronomy Experience!


BUY IT NOW


Viewing Charts

IMPORTANT NOTE: These charts have been in place since November 2002. They do not extend beyond Aug. 27, 2003. See the information and maps near the top of this page for current information.

The maps above are all most people need to find Mars. But for all the details, and to look ahead, see the exclusive tables below. First, some important explanation of the tables:

In the Table 1, we provide a viewing schedule for Mars from early November 2002 through late August 2003, tailored for Northern Hemisphere sky watchers. (Southern Hemisphere: Read the column descriptions below, then skip to Table 2)

Column 1 lists the dates, given at roughly two-week intervals.

Column 2 provides the distance from Mars to the Earth, given in units of millions of miles and millions of kilometers.

Column 3 gives the magnitude of Mars. Remember that the lower the magnitude, the brighter Mars will appear. You can try to gauge how bright Mars will appear in the coming months by comparing its magnitude on a specific date against a star of similar brightness. For example: on February 5, Mars will be equal in brightness to the star Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus. By March 3 it will be similar both in brightness and color to the star Aldebaran, in Taurus. By May 1 Mars will be glowing as brightly as Vega, in Lyra. Thereafter, Mars will increasing in brilliance at a dramatic rate, doubling in brightness every 31 days. By the end of June, it will be equal Sirius in Canis Major (the brightest of all stars) and on July 16, Mars will even surpass Jupiter, moving into second place in brightness among the naked eye planets, a ranking that Mars will be maintain into early October 2003. Only Venus gets brighter.

Column 4 designates the constellation that Mars is located in.

Column 5 gives the time that Mars will rise.

Column 6 gives the time that Mars will reach its highest point in the sky and is due south. These times have been calculated for latitude 40? north, 0? longitude. Notice that it will not be until the end of June that Mars will finally reach its highest point in the sky (due south) before sunrise. By the end of August, however, it will be rising at sunset, reaching its highest point in the middle of the night and setting at sunrise.

An asterisk (*) has been included to those times for localities which observe daylight saving time (DST).

IMPORTANT: To convert the listed time from civil to your own standard (clock) time, the following additional corrections must be made:

FOR LONGITUDE: All times are given in civil or local mean time (LMT), which differs from ordinary clock time by many minutes at most locations. Most civil time zones worldwide have been standardized on particular longitudes at increments of 15?. As an example, across Europe, 0? (the Greenwich Meridian); 15? east; 30? east, etc. Across North America, there is 60? west (Atlantic Time), 75? west (Eastern Time), 90? west (Central Time), etc. If your longitude is very close to one of the standard meridians, luck is with you and your correction is zero.

To get local standard time, add four minutes to the times listed for each degree of longitude that you are west of your time zone meridian. Or subtract four minutes for each degree you are east of it.

FOR LATITUDE: For every degree you are north of latitude 40?, add one minute through the balance of 2002. During 2003, add three minutes. For every degree you are south of latitude 40?, subtract one minute through the balance of 2002. During 2003, subtract two minutes.

EXAMPLE: When will Mars rise for Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 29? The LMT for Mars rise is 10:11 p.m. Minneapolis observes daylight saving time and is located at longitude 93.3? west, latitude 45? north. Correction for longitude: 3.3 x 4 = 13.2 (round off to 13). Minneapolis is west of 90?, so you would add 13 minutes to 10:11 p.m., giving 10:24 p.m. Correction for latitude: Minneapolis is 5? north of latitude 40?, so 5 x 3 =15. Add 15 minutes to 10:24 p.m., giving 10:39 p.m. Central Daylight Time.


Map Mars from Home!
Chart the Red Planet -- or any celestial object -- as seen from your exact location at any time, with the award-winning Starry Night software.

TABLE 1: MARS VIEWING CIRCUMSTANCES - Northern Hemisphere
For late 2002 through August 2003

Date Distance Magnitude Constellation Rises Due South

November 8

225.70/363.15

+1.8

Virgo

4:01 a.m.

After sunrise

November 22

218.07/348.91

+1.7

Virgo

3:52 a.m.

After sunrise

December 6

209.06/336.38

+1.7

Virgo

3:42 a.m.

After sunrise

December 20

199.58/319.33

+1.6

Libra

3:33 a.m.

After sunrise

January 4, 2003

188.24/302.88

+1.5

Libra

3:23 a.m.

After sunrise

January 18

177.27/283.63

+1.4

Libra

3:14 a.m.

After sunrise

February 5

162.20/260.98

+1.2

Ophiuchus

3:00 a.m.

After sunrise

February 19

150.59/240.94

+1.1

Ophiuchus

2:49 a.m.

After sunrise

March 3

140.18/225.55

+0.9

Sagittarius

2:37 a.m.

After sunrise

March 17

128.46/205.54

+0.7

Sagittarius

2:18 a.m.

After sunrise

April 2

114.89/184.86

+0.5

Sagittarius

1:58 a.m.

After sunrise

April 16

103.74/165.98

+0.3

Sagittarius

2:36 a.m.*

After sunrise

May 1

91.93/147.92

0.0

Capricornus

2:09 a.m.*

After sunrise

May 15

81.80/130.88

-0.3

Capricornus

1:40 a.m.*

After sunrise

May 31

70.55/113.51

-0.7

Capricornus

1:05 a.m.*

After sunrise

June 14

61.91/99.06

-1.0

Aquarius

12:28 a.m.*

After sunrise

June 30

52.61/84.65

-1.4

Aquarius

11:45 p.m.*

5:01 a.m.*

July 14

45.83/73.33

-1.8

Aquarius

11:02 p.m.*

4:22 a.m.*

July 29

39.79/64.02

-2.3

Aquarius

10:11 p.m.*

3:30 a.m.*

August 12

36.16/57.86

-2.6

Aquarius

9:15 p.m.*

2:31 a.m.*

August 27

34.67/55.78

-2.9

Aquarius

8:08 p.m.*

1:19 a.m.*


Southern Hemisphere

For those living in the Southern Hemisphere, use the data listed in Table 2, below. These times are calculated for an observer at 20? south latitude, 0? longitude. When making time corrections for other southern locations, just follow the basic rules for longitude listed above.

For latitude, for every degree you are north of latitude 20? south, add one minute through the balance of 2002. During 2003, add two minutes through May 1; one minute thereafter. For every degree you are south of latitude 20? south, subtract one minute through the balance of 2002. During 2003, subtract two minutes through May 31; one minute thereafter.

Unlike in Table 1, no allowance has been given in Table 2 for daylight time (check with local jurisdictions).

Also, take note that the listing for Column 6 has been changed from "Due South" to "Highest" because as seen from many Southern Hemisphere localities, Mars' highest point in the sky will either be due north, or it will pass directly overhead.

As an example, on August 27, when Mars arrives at its closest point to Earth, it will be blazing directly overhead (or very nearly so) for all those living near and along latitude 15.6? south. Cities that will be treated to this unusual spectacle include La Paz, Bolivia; Brasilia, Brazil; Lusaka, Zambia, and Cairns, Australia.

TABLE 2: MARS VIEWING CIRCUMSTANCES - Southern Hemisphere

Date Distance Magnitude Constellation Rises Highest

November 8

225.70/363.15

+1.8

Virgo

3:38 a.m.

After sunrise

November 22

218.07/348.91

+1.7

Virgo

3:11 a.m.

After sunrise

December 6

209.06/336.38

+1.7

Virgo

2:45 a.m.

After sunrise

December 20

199.58/319.33

+1.6

Libra

2:20 a.m.

After sunrise

January 4, 2003

188.24/302.88

+1.5

Libra

1:55 a.m.

After sunrise

January 18

177.27/283.63

+1.4

Libra

1:33 a.m.

After sunrise

February 5

162.20/260.98

+1.2

Ophiuchus

1:07 a.m.

After sunrise

February 19

150.59/240.94

+1.1

Ophiuchus

12:49 a.m.

After sunrise

March 3

140.18/225.55

+0.9

Sagittarius

12:34 a.m.

After sunrise

March 17

128.46/205.54

+0.7

Sagittarius

12:17 a.m.

After sunrise

April 2

114.89/184.86

+0.5

Sagittarius

11:58 p.m.

After sunrise

April 16

103.74/165.98

+0.3

Sagittarius

11:42 p.m.

After sunrise

May 1

91.93/147.92

0.0

Capricornus

11:23 p.m.

5:58 a.m.

May 15

81.80/130.88

-0.3

Capricornus

11:04 p.m.

5:36 a.m.

May 31

70.55/113.51

-0.7

Capricornus

10:40 p.m.

5:08 a.m.

June 14

61.91/99.06

-1.0

Aquarius

10:13 p.m.

4:40 a.m.

June 30

52.61/84.65

-1.4

Aquarius

9:38 p.m.

4:03 a.m.

July 14

45.83/73.33

-1.8

Aquarius

8:58 p.m.

3:22 a.m.

July 29

39.79/64.02

-2.3

Aquarius

8:07 p.m.

2:31 a.m.

August 12

36.16/57.86

-2.6

Aquarius

7:04 p.m.

1:31 a.m.

August 27

34.67/55.78

-2.9

Aquarius

5:52 p.m.

12:21 a.m.


Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.

Magnitude

Magnitude is the standard by which astronomers measure the apparent brightness of objects that appear in the sky. The lower the number, the brighter the object. The brightest stars in the sky are categorized as zero or first magnitude. Negative magnitudes are reserved for the most brilliant objects: the brightest star is Sirius (-1.4); the full Moon is -12.7; the Sun is -26.7. The faintest stars visible under dark skies are around +6.

Most Popular