Search for this weekend to catch vibrant Mars because it begins a zigzag detour throughout the spring sky.

In simply 5 and a half weeks, Mars will make its closest strategy to Earth since August 2003. This week, we will see the Pink Planet simply earlier than midnight, low within the east-southeast sky, virtually matching Jupiter in brilliance and glowing like a yellowish-orange ember. 

And Mars continues to brighten noticeably with every passing week. [Previewing 2018's Year of Spectacular Mars Using Mobile Apps]

When you’ve got been following Mars since New 12 months's Day, you might recall that again then, it was shining within the zodiacal constellation of Libra, the scales. At the moment, it was 181 million miles (292 million kilometers) from Earth. In distinction, by the top of subsequent week, Mars' distance from Earth could have diminished to 42.three million miles (68.2 million km); it now shines some 25 instances brighter than it did firstly of this yr.

Additionally since Jan. 1, Mars has progressed on an easterly course by the background stars of the zodiac. It at present resides within the zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, the ocean goat.

However on June 28, that regular eastward course will come to a cease. 

Really, because the starting of June, Mars has appeared to sluggish in its eastward trajectory, virtually seeming to waver, as if it had change into unsure. Lastly, on June 28, it is going to pause briefly. Then, for the subsequent two months, it is going to reverse its course within the heavens and seem to maneuver backward in opposition to the star background — towards the west. 

On Aug. 28, the planet will pause briefly once more earlier than resuming its regular eastward motion.

The entire planets in our photo voltaic system exhibit this "retrograde movement" at one time or one other. However for the longest time, the traditional astronomers have been unable to provide you with a passable clarification for it. For one factor, whereas behaving on this unusual method, Mars will even seem to deviate considerably from its regular course; the retrograde movement will seem to deliver it far beneath its common orbital monitor. 

In different phrases, for these of us watching from Earth, throughout that two-month interval, Mars will seem to journey in a broad loop, measuring about 10 levels lengthy and a couple of half levels broad. But the traditional Greeks staunchly believed that the solar, moon and planets all moved across the Earth in excellent circles. They’d a fantastic issue in representing and calculating this mysterious loop, and for a very long time, that they had no ample clarification for it. 

One other downside was making an attempt to clarify why Mars typically described a loop and different instances a zigzag/back-and-forth movement, which resembled the letter "Z" in its path throughout the sky. In truth, it did simply this in the course of the spring of 2016 and can accomplish that once more within the late fall of 2022. 

The Greeks lastly defined away these anomalies by assuming that the planets moved round Earth in smaller "epicycles" — that’s, small circles whose facilities transfer alongside their principal orbital circles round Earth, leading to advanced, virtually coil-like curves. Sadly, the precise observations of the planets by no means appeared to suit this unusual orbital mechanism, finally making the Greeks' clarification completely ineffective.

It was not till 1543, when the nice Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) had his lifelong work "De revolutionibus" revealed, that the key of the odd retrograde loops have been lastly revealed. By demoting Earth from its hallowed place on the middle of the photo voltaic system and changing it with the solar, Copernicus was capable of triumphantly clarify the riddle of the obvious "backward movement impact" of the planets. [The Greatest Astronomers of All Time]

In truth, it's the identical impact obtained if you cross one other automobile on the freeway: Each automobiles are entering into the identical path, however one is transferring extra slowly. As they cross, the slower automobile will seem like transferring backward in relation to the quicker one. Copernicus utilized the identical impact to the planets out in house. Within the upcoming state of affairs, each Earth and Mars are transferring in the identical path across the solar, however the slower one — Mars — seems to maneuver backward in comparison with the quicker one, Earth.

Let's stress one factor right here: Mars will not be really stopping or reversing its orbital path in house! What we’re witnessing is merely an phantasm based mostly on perspective. Mars will proceed to maneuver in its common elliptical orbit across the solar. What we’re seeing — the stopping, the reversing of its path within the sky and the last word resumption of its common path throughout the sky — is solely a perform of viewing Mars from our Earthly perspective (similar to when viewing the slower automobile from the attitude of the quicker automobile) as we every journey by house in separate orbital paths at completely different speeds across the solar. 

After Aug. 28, the actions of Earth and Mars will cancel out the obvious backward movement. Having spent greater than half of this yr trailing and finally catching as much as Mars (like race automobiles "sizzling lapping" one another), Earth will ultimately depart Mars far behind. The fast enhance in brightness for Mars we're seeing now can be reversed and, consequently, in the course of the latter a part of this yr, will fade quickly.

Editor's be aware: Should you seize an superior view of Mars and need to share it and our information companions for a narrative or gallery, ship photographs and feedback in to managing editor Tariq Malik at:

Joe Rao serves as an affiliate at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Pure Historical past journal, the Farmer's Almanac and different publications, and he’s additionally an on-camera meteorologist for FiOS1 Information, based mostly in Rye Brook, New York. Observe us @Spacedotcom, Fb and Google+. Unique article on