The Opposition of Mars is happening this Summer, 2018.
The Helena Astronomical Society will have a public outreach and viewing of Mars on Tuesday, August 7th, 2018, with Thursday August 9th being a backup date in case of cloudy skies/rain.
The public is invited and all are encouraged to attend. Free trinkets, candy, drinks, and a couple of door prizes will be given away while supplies last! We have two Astronomy Binocular kits from Orion Telescopes to be given away (must be present to win.) Each kit include a set of 10x50 binoculars - great for general viewing of the night sky (and useful during the day too.) Drawings are scheduled to occur at 9:00 PM and again at 9:15 PM.
The portable planetarium will be set up in the Gym starting at 7:30 PM. Afterwards, we will convene on the rear deck (Southeast side) of the Arts and Science building ( also known on campus as the "C" building) around sunset ( about 8:30 PM.) We will offer a brief program in the STEM room (204C) and then go out on the deck for viewing. Mars should be visible from here by about 9:00 - 9:30 PM, reaching it's highest point in the sky for the night just after midnight. Jupiter and Saturn will also be in prominent view during this time frame. They reached opposition just earlier this year and are still larger than normal.
Opposition occurs when a planet forms a straight line with the Earth and Sun, with the Earth being in between the two.
In addition to the normal opposition (which happens) about every two years, this year is also the Perihelion opposition of Mars (which is when Mars is the closest to the Sun in it's orbit. This means it will be even brighter and larger in the sky than during other periods of opposition. This combination will not happen again until 2050.
Please do note that even though Mars may appear to be up to 6 times larger to us than it does in other periods, it will still be a pretty small object in the sky - but this is by far one of the best opportunities to view it in/for quite a while. It's also our duty, as astronomers and lovers of the night sky, to point out that contrary to some rumors that float around the Internet and Social Media, Mars will NOT be as big as the Moon (we don't want your expectations to be set TOO high. ;)
The actual opposition date is July 27, 2018. This also coincides with the full Moon - so viewing conditions at the exact time of opposition will be less than optimum because the Moon will be so bright. Mars will be the closest to Earth on July 31, 2018. There is a good window of several weeks on either side of those dates that will be optimum for viewing Mars at it's biggest and brightest. Mars will actually surpass Jupiter during this time frame to become the 4th brightest object in the sky - with only Venus, the Moon, and the Sun itself being brighter.
This event will be after hours so it is fine to use the Nursing building parking lot. If you are coming to the Planetarium first, it may be more convenient for you to park at the gym.
There is a sidewalk/steps leading from the gym to the C building if you prefer to walk between the two.
There will be yard signs to direct you to the Planetarium and the C building once you get on campus.