Life on Mars: Get great views of the Red Planet on Monday night

Mars Approach: Astronomer tells you how you can see the Red Planet from your home

Mars will be unusually close to Earth this evening

Monday, May 30, 2016

Mars will be closer to Earth tonight (Monday) than it has been in more than 10 years, meaning that if the clouds part for long enough keen star-spotters will be able to get a great view of the mysterious red planet.

With plans well underway for a first manned exploration of Mars in 2024, astronomer Dr. John Mason told talkRADIO listeners how they can make the most of Monday's viewing possibilities. 

The two planets will be a mere 46,777,480 miles (75,281,056 km) apart on Monday evening - the closest the pair have been since 30 October 2005 - and Dr. Mason told Penny Smith: "If you go out about 11 o'clock (23:00), Mars is very obviously red.

"It's low down in the south-eastern sky and almost as bright as Jupiter.

"You're not going to see much unless you've got a decent telescope. but if you look at it through binoculars it will be very obviously red and much brighter.

"Even through the naked eye, though, you will see it there."

The (relatively) close approach of the planet is particularly significant given the current plans for space travel. The European Space Agency is soon to send a probe to Mars to determine its past habitability, while in 2024 the first human expedition to the planet (Mars One) is scheduled to take place.

Despite the exciting possibilities afforded by such exploration, Dr. Mason, from the British Astronomical Association, remains sceptical about the prospects of the planet hosting complex lifeforms.

"It's not the right environment now," he said. "Mars has never been stable enough for long enough. It's subject to massive climate change. 

"It's a long, long time ago, thousands of millions of years, when Mars had bodies of water.

"There may have been hot springs where life forms began to get a foothold, but they would never have evolved to anything advanced. 

"There is no sign of advanced life, but that doesn't mean there couldn't be some simple Martian organism living on the planet.

"I am quite sure that in the next 50 years we will have humans going to Mars, and then we will be able to answer some of these fascinating questions."