See the planet Mars!

A heart-shaped surface feature on Mars.
From Mars, With Love. This heart-shaped pit on the surface of Mars was photographed by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.

Pull out your telescope and look to the skies above, for this is a good time to see the planet Mars as the famous “Red Planet” is near what’s called “opposition.”  This means that Mars and Earth are close to one another in their orbits around the Sun.  (See diagram below.)

Name A Star Live diagram of Mars at opposition
At opposition Mars and Earth are at their closest approach to one another in their orbits around the Sun. (Note that this diagram is not to scale.)

It’s called “opposition” because, when viewed from Earth, Mars and the Sun appear at opposite sides of the sky at sunset: on the day of opposition, Mars rises over the eastern horizon just as the sun sets over the western horizon.  While the Mars opposition was January 29, 2010, you can get good views of Mars throughout February.

If the star you have named is in the constellation Cancer then you’re in luck, for Mars is in the constellation Cancer as well for the next few months:  If you find Mars, then you’ve found the constellation Cancer!  Mars appears as a rather bright, reddish-orange object in the eastern sky during the first few hours after sunset this month.

Hubble Space Telescope image of Mars Credit: David Crisp and the WFPC2 Science Team (JPL/CIT), and NASA

If you have any trouble finding the planet, just use your Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software, which is included in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets.  Also, you can view Mars through the SLOOH online telescope — Name A Star Live is the only name-a-star company to offer SLOOH.

Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to view the Red Planet as Mars oppositions occur only about once every 26 months.