Our galactic neighbour is closer and brighter than it has been for 15 years – and its appearance will coincide with a total lunar eclipse. It has never been a better time to take up stargazing

If you look at the sky tonight and spot a very bright star, it may well be a planet. Mars is the closest it has been to Earth for 15 years – and therefore the brightest. “Mars shines through reflected light,” says Robert Massey, the deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society. “That means that when it’s closer to the Earth it appears brighter, because its apparent size is bigger.” It won’t be this visible again until 2035.

So, how best to see it? First, make sure tall trees or buildings are not obscuring the view. Ideally, you want a clear horizon. Then, look south. “It will be obvious, because it’s bright, it doesn’t twinkle and it has a distinct reddish tinge,” says Massey, who suggests Somerset, Devon and Dorset as good locations for spotting it. The best Mars-gazing time is 1am, but it rises earlier in the evening.

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