Mars Close Approach to Earth

See Mars in the Night Sky!

Simply go outside and look up, contact your local planetarium, or look for a star party near you.


In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30
Mars Close Approach is July 31, 2018

That is the point in Mars' orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). Mars reaches its highest point around midnight -- about 35 degrees above the southern horizon, or one third of the distance between the horizon and overhead. Mars will be visible for much of the night.

By mid-August, Mars will become fainter as Mars and Earth travel farther away from each other in their orbits around the Sun.

Miss seeing Mars Close Approach in 2018? The next Mars Close Approach is Oct. 6, 2020.

In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31.
In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. That is the point in Mars' orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers).

What is Mars Close Approach?

Close Approach is when Mars and Earth come nearest to each other in their orbits around the sun. Close is a relative term. The minimum distance from the Earth to Mars is about 33.9 million miles (54.6 million kilometers). However, that doesn't happen very often..

Illustration of the orbits of Mars and Earth around the sun during Close Approach.
Illustration of the orbits of Mars and Earth around the sun during Close Approach.

If Earth and Mars had perfectly circular orbits, their minimum distance would always be the same. However, they have elliptical (egg-shaped) paths.

In addition, gravitational tugging by planets constantly changes the shape of their orbits a little bit. Giant Jupiter especially influences the orbit of Mars.

The orbits of Mars and Earth are also slightly tilted with respect to each other.

All of these factors mean that not all close encounters are equal. In 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years! It won't be that close again until the year 2287.

When Mars and Earth are close to each other, Mars appears very bright in our sky. It also makes it easier to see with telescopes or the naked eye. The Red Planet comes close enough for exceptional viewing only once or twice every 15 or 17 years.

Close Approach: Mars Hoax

However, don't be fooled by the Mars Hoax! Since 2003, this urban legend gets circulated through email and social media every time Mars makes a close approach.

Don't be fooled by the Mars Hoax. The message is that Mars will look as big as the Moon in our night sky. If that were true, we'd be in big trouble given the gravitational pulls on Earth, Mars, and our Moon!

When does Mars Close Approach Occur?

Though Earthlings will be able to get a good look at Mars during close approach, NASA's two rovers on Mars will not be able to see Earth.
Though Earthlings will be able to get a good look at Mars during close approach, NASA's two rovers on Mars will not be able to see Earth.

Mars Close Approach happens about every 26 months. It is closely related to Mars Opposition and Mars Retrograde.

Since Mars and Earth are at their closest, it's generally the best time to go to Mars. 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:

2001 Mars Odyssey
2003 Mars Exploration Rovers
2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
2007 Mars Phoenix Lander
2009 (skipped opportunity)
2011 Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover
2013 MAVEN
2016 (skipped opportunity)
2018 InSight
2020 Mars 2020

Archived Content 2003 and 2005 ›

Next Mars Close Approach in 2020

An artist's view of the size of Mars during Close Approach in 2018 and 2020.
An artist's view of the size of Mars during Close Approach in 2018 and 2020.

Missed seeing Mars Close Approach in 2018? Not to worry! The next Mars Close Approach is Oct. 6, 2020, when the Red Planet will be only 38.6 million miles (62.07 million kilometers) from Earth.

Mars Close Approach Star Party Mars Close Approach Star Party:
Griffith Observatory

July 30, 2018
10 p.m. - 2 a.m. (last entry at midnight)
2800 East Observatory Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Get Directions ››

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