At the end of July 2018, Mars makes its closest approach to Earth since the memorable opposition of 2003. This summer sees the Red Planet big and bright, low in the south around 1am BST, but now’s the time to train your eye to detect prominent Martian surface features – dust storms permitting! We present our interactive Mars Mapper to help plan your observations.
In the bright evening twilight of 14, 15 and 16 July, observers in the British Isles and Western Europe can see the waxing gibbous Moon pass by Mars, first-magnitude star Antares in Scorpius, then Saturn. This series of conjunctions occurs very low in the southern sky for UK-based astronomers, while Australasian observers are ideally placed to view the spectacle almost overhead.
Mars lies highest in the sky to the south soon after sunset at the beginning of July for observers in the UK, so you should not waste any opportunities to view the Red Planet while it is close and still relatively large in size. Tharsis, the great Martian volcanic plateau that is home to the largest volcanoes in the solar system, is turned toward Earth in the first week of the month.