The red planet’s longest, brightest (and backwards) phase begins today

The fourth planet Mars will soon shine brighter than the brightest star in the night sky – Sirius – but during the entire period of its “opposition” it will do something that is difficult to understand. It will appear to go backwards.

Starting today, Mars will reverse its apparent motion from west to east in the night sky and begin moving from east to west against the stars.

This is called “retrograde motion” and it gets astrologers very excited. To be absolutely clear, the position of Mars today in the constellation Gemini will have no effect on anyone’s daily life. It won’t cause a communication breakdown in your life. Nor is it about anger and arguments you have or don’t have. How could he?

Astrology aside, Mars retrograde — which only happens once every two years or so — is a great time to see the fourth planet and appreciate an interesting aspect of how our solar system works.

Mars retrograde also indicates that something spectacular is about to happen. Right in the middle of its apparent retrograde motion in the night sky, the red planet will come to its six-monthly “opposition,” when, in early December, Mars is at its closest point to Earth and thus at its largest and brightest.

As a bonus, it will also be possible to see a rare ‘eclipse’ of Mars by the Moon.

Here’s everything you need to know about Mars retrograde in 2022—what it is, why it’s happening, and the key dates you should be out looking up to see the red planet at its glorious best.

When is Mars retrograde in 2022?

From Sunday 30 October 2022, Mars will appear to be moving backwards. During this time it will move towards its biggest, brightest and best, all the time in the constellation of Gemini (albeit surrounded by the stars of Taurus, “the bull”).

It will continue to move backwards—from Earth’s perspective—until Thursday, January 12, 2023.

Understanding why Mars appears to be moving backwards

Mars retrograde is all about perspective.

Earth orbits the Sun closer than Mars. “Earth moves faster around the Sun – taking 364 days to Mars’ 687 days – so from our perspective, as we go around the Sun, Mars is ahead of us in the sky,” said Dr. Simon Morden, planetary geologist and author of a new book The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars (find a review here). “As we catch up and pass it, it looks like it’s starting to go backwards.”

It’s rather like passing a speeding car. Sitting in the faster car, the slower car seems to be moving backwards, although, of course, it is not. It’s helpful to see a top-down view of the solar system, which you’ll find at The Planets Today.

“Because then we’re spinning faster, Mars will look like it’s starting to get closer again, so it looks like it’s making this little loop in the sky,” Morden said. It’s something all the outer planets seem to do. “Saturn and Jupiter, mostly, all have retrograde motion across the sky, because we get to one of them, then match their speed, then move away again.”

“It excites astrologers, but it’s just natural.”

Mars in opposition 2022

Mars always appears to move backwards during its once-every-26-month “opposition,” which this year occurs on December 7, 2022. It marks the point where Earth is between the Sun and Mars, so the planet is fully illuminated by the Sun from our point of view. Consequently, it is in its brightest year, so this is the best time to see it. As a bonus it also means it rises in the east at dusk and stays in the night sky all night.

Eclipse of Mars by the Moon

The Moon occults a planet a few times each year, as seen from somewhere on Earth. But a full moon that eclipses Mars near its brightest once every 26 months? Now that is a rare set of circumstances. That’s exactly what’s happening on December 8, 2022. It’s not something you want to miss.

I wish you clear skies and open eyes.

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