Every year, I receive an email from my mother, who (God bless her heart) loves to forward on chain letters and random, unsubstantiated claims. This particular email always focuses on how, on August 27, Mars will come closer to Earth than it has in thousands of years and will be the size of the full moon in the night sky.
This particular email is a remnant of the one sent around to celebrate the actual occurrence, when, on August 27, 2003, Mars came within 35 million miles of Earth (which happens only once every 60,000 years) and appeared 6 times larger and 85 times brighter than it normally does. The reference in the email to Mars appearing to be the size of the full moon was intended for those viewing Mars with the aid of a telescope.
Tonight, while it will not be the spectacle from 2003, Mars will be as close to Earth as it has been in more than two years, at 61.6 million miles. This opposition between Mars and the Sun puts them at a minimum distance from each other, and happens every 780 days (a little more than two years).
In August 2003, Mars and Earth were separated by 34.3 million miles. The next really close opposition will take place in 2018, when Mars will be about 36 million miles away. That said, Mars will still be shining very brightly for the next couple of months (it will be the second brightest star-like object in the sky, with only Sirius outshining it).
Mars will be visible all night; look for the brightest “star” in the low eastern sky. It will have Mars’ famous copper red hue.