How to See Mars During Its Closest Approach to Earth in 15 Years

On July 27, the red planet will be brighter in the night sky than it’s been since 2003. Here’s where to go to get the best views.

How to See Mars During Its Closest Approach to Earth in 15 Years

The Milky Way and Mars are both visible from an Airbnb listing in La Palma, Spain, during Mars’s close approach to Earth in July.

Courtesy of Airbnb

This Friday, July 27, 2018, Mars will be brighter in the night sky than it has been in 15 years due to an astronomical event called opposition, which occurs when Earth passes directly between the sun and the red planet, or when Mars is directly opposite the sun in our sky.

In 2003, Mars came within 34.6 million miles of Earth, the closest the planets have been in 60,000 years. While this week’s event won’t break that record—that won’t happen until August 28, 2287, NASA says—it will be just 35.8 million miles away, making it brighter than Jupiter, which usually outshines the fourth planet from the sun.

It’s no coincidence that my launch and Mars Close Approach are both in the same year. Every 26 months #Mars & #Earth come closest to each other in their orbits. This is one of the reasons why I launched just before Mars Close Approach. More: — NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) July 20, 2018

Here’s how to see the astronomical event later this week.

What night can you see Mars the best?

Technically, Mars will be closest to Earth at 3:50 a.m. EST on July 31, according to, and will appear brighter in the sky between July 21 and August 3. But the best viewing opportunities will occur the night of July 27, when you can not only see Mars at its brightest but also take in July’s full moon, which happens to be the longest lunar eclipse of the century.

Where can you see Mars?

While the lunar eclipse isn’t visible from North America, people around the world can observe Mars at opposition in places where the weather is clear and there isn’t too much light pollution. Here are a few of our favorite picks for where to go.

Spain’s Gran Telescopio Canarias in La Palma

Spain’s Gran Telescopio Canarias in La Palma

Courtesy of Airbnb

Airbnb is hosting a one-of-a-kind experience in Spain’s Canary Islands for astro-tourists to get a spectacular view of Mars. On July 27, six guests will have the opportunity to view Mars at opposition from the world’s largest single-aperture optical and infrared telescope, the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), located in La Palma, Spain. The event is hosted by Juan Antonio González, a local astronomy guide, and Antonio Luis Cabrera, the leader of scientific operations at GTC. In addition to being able to see and photograph Mars up close, the six guests will also be able to view the lunar eclipse. If you can’t make it all the way to Spain, the Desert Retreat in Pioneertown, California—one of Airbnb’s most popular stargazing spots—still has availability. Those who want to get even farther away can book the HipCamp’s Pond Cabin in California’s Shasta Trinity National Forest. Unfortunately, those on the East Coast will have their views of Mars blocked by a wet weather pattern that is expected to last through the end of the week.

When is Mars at opposition next?

If you miss this weekend’s event, the next close approach of Mars will happen on October 6, 2020, when the red planet will be 38.6 million miles away from Earth.

>> Next: The Longest Lunar Eclipse of the Century Is Happening in July

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR