Mars close approach: Get a look at the red planet

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Although Mars will be closer than normal, it will still only appear as a bright, red point of light in the sky and not as large as the moon, noted Accuweather.com, a reference to a hoax that made the rounds in 2003.

The event will be overseen by the associate professor Chuck Higgins, with other astronomers and students on hand to answer questions and guide the viewing.

Every 15 or 17 years, opposition occurs within a few weeks of Mars' perihelion - the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun.

On Earth, the Northern and Southern lights occur when the solar wind (electrically charged particles from the Sun) follow our planet's geomagnetic field lines to the poles and collide with the upper atmosphere.

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The blood moon will be the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century and will occur just after 9pm United Kingdom time on Friday July 27. When it happens while the Red Planet is closest to the Sun (called "perihelic opposition'), Mars is particularly close to Earth", NASA said. But Mars won't be as close as it was in 2003 until 2287. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles.

A massive dust storm at Mars, however, is obscuring normally visible surface details.

If you've looked outside anytime after sunset recently, you've probably thought Mars looks a bit bigger than you remember it.

The size of the red planet hasn't actually changed, but where it is in its orbit has lessened the distance between it and Earth, making it appear bigger to us Earthlings as it gets closer.

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"The Martian proton auroras are more than a light show", said Dr. Jasper Halekas, from the University of Iowa.

NASA plans to release on Friday what scientists say will be stunning new images of Mars taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The planet's closest approach to Earth occurred in 2003 when the two planets drew within 34.6 million miles, the closest approach in almost 60,000 years. "Not quite as bright as Venus, but still because of the reddish, orange-ish-red color, you really can't miss it in the sky". Demeter said the best time to view the planet is from 10:30 p.m. through midnight. Areas from the Plains to the West would have the best view of Mars as it passes Earth.

The total lunar eclipse on Friday will be visible in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

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