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Brightened planet Mars to align with Earth, sun this week

A simulated view of Mars as it would be seen from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft.
A simulated view of Mars as it would be seen from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. (NASA)

Mars will appear at its biggest and brightest in the night sky this week as it aligns with the Earth and sun on Tuesday.

The red planet reaches what is known as opposition Tuesday, when it and the sun are on directly opposite sides of the Earth. That occurs once about every 26 months, according to NASA.

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"Earth makes two trips around the sun in about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip," according to NASA. "So sometimes the two planets are on opposite sides of the sun, very far apart, and other times, Earth catches up with its neighbor and passes relatively close to it."

This month, Earth and Mars are meanwhile at their closest for nearly 6 and a half years, appearing bigger and brighter than it has since December 2007, according to EarthSky.org. The moment that comes occurs April 14.

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Look for Mars rising in the east around sunset, and moving toward the west throughout the night. It shines as a steady, reddish star.

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