Mars viewing for Rochester area will be heavenly through August

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Mars will be bold and bright and decidedly orange. (Courtesy photo)

The Red Planet will put on a celestial show for the Granite State for the next several weeks rising brightly in the southern sky throughout the month of August, a University of New Hampshire astronomer said today.

It will be especially breathtaking after Venus sets, because Venus is the only planet brighter than Mars.

"After Venus sets, Mars absolutely steals the show," said John Gianforte, director of the UNH observatory and UNH astronomer.

Gianforte said Tuesday night, for instance, Venus will set around 10 p.m. and after that Mars will be the celestial cat's meow all the way till dawn on Wednesday.

Tomorrow night marks the closest approach our planet neighbor most shrouded in mystery makes to the Earth in 15 years.

"It will be just 35.8 million miles away," Gianforte mused.

Many recent news stories have reflected on how close Mars will be Tuesday night, but Gianforte said if it's cloudy like forecasted, no need to worry. Mars will be a brilliant player in the southern sky for the next month at least.

"It will be the brightest and closest for the next two weeks," he said, "but it will be bright all the way through August and into September. Nothing competes with it in that part of the sky."

He said stargazers will see Mars rise around 9 p.m. in the southern sky, makes its way across the heavens and set around sunrise.

He said the best viewing will be between 10 a.m. when Venus sets and 4 a.m. when dawn begins to break.

For the perfect stargazing event, Gianforte suggests you find an area of low light pollution with a clear view down to the southern horizon.

If you go out around 9 p.m. you'll see Venus to the southwest very bright, then look east and you'll see Jupiter with a bright yellowish tint and then farther east to see Saturn, not as bright, he said. Then wait till around 10 p.m. and look farther to the east and a little lower and you'll see Mars colored a bright, bold orangey red.

The red planet is easily visible with the naked eye, but folks with a telescope may be able to see some details of the planet, including the planet's ice caps. It will be highest in the sky soon after midnight.

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