UPDATED: Mars a Bright Red Spot Above Portland, Oregon, the Coast
Published 05/25/2016 at 6:11 PM PDT - Published 05/26/2016 at 2:11 aM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff
(Oregon Coast) – Updated to include full dates. To paraphrase the old McCartney and Wings song: “Saturn and Mars are alright tonight.” (Photo of Mars courtesy NASA/Hubble).
Mars is a bright red star in the skies over inland Oregon and the coast right now, with Mars in opposition and at its closest to us until May 30. Meanwhile, Saturn is tagging along with the red planet as well.
All this makes for incredible sky watching right now along the Oregon coast and in towns like Portland, Salem and Eugene – except for the fact the skies don't open up much until the holiday weekend is finishing up. Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day and that's when the nighttime skies really start to clear up in order to see this wondrous extraterrestrial sight. Until then, it's mostly cloudy if not completely cloudy at night.
Mars reached opposition to Earth on May 22, meaning both Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of the Earth. It's also when the planet is at its closest to Earth. Mars reaches opposition about every two years, but when the coincidences double up to include reaching perihelion to Earth (at its closest) – that only occurs once every 26 years or so.
The end result is a bright red spot in the sky, mostly trailing along near the moon throughout the hours of darkness. You won't need a telescope to see the trademark redness of the fourth planet in our solar system. Saturn is also a bright dot near the moon and Mars, adding to the interplanetary fun.
The way planets orbit around the sun – which is mostly elliptical and not straight circles – makes these two coinciding events possible, and it makes them occur years apart. Another fascinating fact: in 2003, the opposition of Mars was the closest the two planets had been to each other in about 60,000 years. You'll have to wait until 2287 to find Mars getting any closer.
How long will this last? Mars starts to drift from its opposition and perihelion after May 30, but it will take a few weeks before it really begins to fade to a normal brightness. It will lessen in brightness over the coming weeks, for at least a week or two will remain quite brilliant..
What are the best spots to view this on the Oregon coast? Really anywhere, and the same goes for Portland. The darker your vantage point, the better, however. In this case, beaches along the coast will likely be more fun than the usual high spots Oregon Coast Beach Connection recommends for meteor showers. On the beaches, you may get a glimpse of Mars reflecting its red in the wet sand, which can make for awesome night photography, if you have the right equipment. Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour
More of the Oregon coast at night below. Keep an eye on Oregon Coast Weather.
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