Planet Mars is at its ‘biggest and brightest’

Mars is at its biggest and brightest right now as the Red Planet lines up with Earth on the same side of the Sun.

Every 26 months, the pair take up this arrangement, moving close together, before then diverging again on their separate orbits around our star.

Tuesday night sees the actual moment of what astronomers call “opposition”.

All three bodies will be in a straight line at 23:20 GMT (00:20 BST).

“But you don’t have to wait until the middle of the night; even now, at nine or 10 o’clock in the evening, you’ll easily see it over in the southeast,” says astrophotographer, Damian Peach. “You can’t miss it, it’s the brightest star-like object in that part of the sky,” he told BBC News.

Three missions are currently in transit, all of which were sent on their way in July:

The United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter; China’s Tianwen orbiter and rover; and the Americans’ Perseverance rover.

Hope, Tianwen and Perseverance are all on course to arrive at Mars in February.

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In 2003, it made its closest approach to Earth around opposition in nearly 60,000 years – a separation of just 56 million km.

The distance between the two at opposition can be over 100 million km, as happened in 2012.

The variation is a consequence of the elliptical shape of the orbits of both Mars and Earth.

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