Mars to Make Its Closest Approach to Earth Until 2035: "Go Out and Take a Look!"
The Close Approach happens every two years, but Tuesday's encounter at 38.6 million miles away will be the closest to Earth that Mars gets until 2035.
Space fans: get excited, because Mars is heading closer to Earth!
On Tuesday, the red planet will come the closest to Earth that it will be until 2035, NASA reported—but that distance is rather relative as the planets will be a whopping 38.6 million miles away from each other.
Known as the Mars Close Approach, this event happens every two years and follows Mars and Earth—which are normally at least 33.9 million miles away—as they come closer to and farther away from each other in their elliptical orbits around the sun, according to the space agency.
When Mars, Earth and the sun become aligned, the red planet will be "visible for much of the night in the southern sky and is at its highest point at about midnight," NASA wrote.
Mars will also appear "very bright" in Earth's sky, according to NASA, making it "easier to see with telescopes or the naked eye" and providing "exceptional viewing" that only comes around once every 15-17 years.
"Simply go outside and look up and, depending on your local weather and lighting conditions, you should be able to see Mars," NASA wrote. "...Mars is at its brightest, so go out and take a look!"
Though the Close Approach is a biennial event, the distance between Mars and Earth routinely wavers due to the planets' elliptical and slightly-tilted paths and gravitational tug, according to NASA.
In a graph by Forbes, this trend appears like a wave, illustrating how the distance between the planets increases or decreases every two years, and they ultimately change their upward or downward direction every seven to nine years.
To date, the closet Mars has ever been to Earth was in 2003 at 34.7 million miles away, Forbes previously reported. That milestone became the nearest the two planets had been to each other in 60,000 years.
The last Mars Close Approach occurred in 2018 at a distance of 35.8 million miles—marking the closest the planets have ever been in 15 years.
"Since Mars and Earth are at their closest [during the approaches], it's generally the best time to go to Mars," NASA said. "Many Mars missions have taken advantage of the close distance to visit the red planet. That's why, depending on budgets, you'll often see that Mars missions launch about every two years."
After Tuesday's event, the next Close Approach is expected to take place on Dec. 8, 2022, when Mars will be only 38.6 million miles from Earth, NASA said.
NASA has already scheduled its next mission to the red planet, Mars Sample Return, during that time, despite currently being on its 2020 mission with the Perseverance rover, which is expected to land on Feb. 18.